Monday, May 31, 2004

Poland's Ruling Left Reels After Corruption Vote

May 31, 2004 — By Adam Jasser
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling leftists acknowledged on Monday they faced an uphill struggle to avert early elections after parliament voted to approve a report linking them to a corruption scandal.

Poland has been locked in political crisis for months as the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lost its majority in parliament and its public opinion poll ratings plunged after of a wave of sleaze scandals.

On Friday, opposition parties joined forces to approve a parliamentary report which blamed former SLD prime minister Leszek Miller, who resigned earlier this month, and leftist President Aleksander Kwasniewski for trying to hush up a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal to protect officials.

Miller, who has denied the charges, said the vote showed how hard it was going to be to win approval for his successor, economist Marek Belka, in a confidence vote.

"It's plain to see how slim the support for Belka's government will be," Miller told public radio. "If the atmosphere from Friday was to be repeated in other votes in parliament, early elections should be considered."

Kwasniewski who insists Belka should stay at the helm to steer Poland through its crucial first months of European Union membership, said on Monday he would reappoint him on June 11.

He told a news conference he did not expect the confidence vote to take place before a crucial EU summit on June 17-18, which aims to wrap up work on the bloc's constitution.

The SLD must find some additional 40 votes in the 460-seat lower house of parliament to secure a majority and win the confidence vote.

If Belka fails in what will be his second attempt to get parliament's approval, early elections must be held in August.

A group of around 30 deputies who broke ranks with the SLD two months ago is ready to back Belka if the SLD agrees to hold elections in October, rather than next year. He can also count on the votes of some 17 independents.


Belka tried to put a brave face on the SLD's defeat on Friday, telling a news conference: "I don't believe there will be a large impact on what is happening in the Sejm (lower house of parliament) on my mission to form a government."

Friday's vote followed the conviction last month of film producer Lew Rywin for soliciting a $17.5-million bribe from a Polish daily in return for favorable changes to media laws.

In the subsequent investigations, the names of several senior SLD officials involved in the drafting of new media laws surfaced. Some were close associates of Miller and Kwasniewski, who was SLD leader before becoming president in 1995.

A court ruled in April it could not find conclusive evidence of the officials' involvement.

But on Friday, the opposition voted through a version of a report by a special parliamentary committee investigating the case that accused Kwasniewski and Miller of failing to take action even though they were aware of the scam.

Kwasniewski denied any involvement in the scandal and dismissed Friday's vote and opposition calls for his impeachment that followed over the weekend as a purely political attack.

(Additional reporting by Wojciech Moskwa, Ewa Krukowska and Nathaniel Espino)

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Polish Parliament votes for criminal indictment of President and other top leaders

Poland's parliament has voted for, as far as I can tell, the indictment of ex PM Leszek Miller and current President Aleksander Kwasniewski and others over the 'Rywin-gate' scandal. As their have been NO English language articles explaining this corruption scandal, (exept for a couple subscriber only at Transitions) the single biggest political issue in Poland over the past seventeen months, a bit of background.
From late 2001 on, the Polish SLD (ex-communist) government was at odds with the private media, especially the powerful Agora group (owner of Gazeta Wyborcza, left-liberal, associated with ex-dissident circles, and very successful) which wanted to increase its rapidly growing radio business, and, crucially, to enter the TV market by buying Poland's biggest private TV station. The government devised a law that seemed perfectly tailored to frustrate Agora, while opening the way to ex-communist apparatchik, SLD ally and newly appointed head of one of the state TV channels to turn himself and his station into the dominant media group. Both money and politics were thus at play. Agora, together with much of the rest of the private media launched a campaign against the law.
In the summer of 2002 a leading media exec with ties to the SLD, Lew Rywin, approached Adam Michnik, titular head of Gazeta Wyborcza, with a modest proposal. For a few million for himself, a nice post for himself, millions for the SLD, and agreeing to stop criticizing the SLD, the SLD would rewrite the law to suit Agora's interests, and not object to Agora's expansion into the TV market. He said he was speaking in the name of Prime Minster Leszek Miller and 'the group of those who hold power.' Michnik said he would like to discuss it with the real managers of the enterprise and to meet again. He then set up recording devices for the next meeting and Rywin repeated his proposals.
THe newspaper investigated, and Michnik went to the PM to ask what the hell was going on (or to tacitly inform him that Agora had blackmail material). The PM said he knew nothing, and proceeded to do nothing Same with Agora, until at the end of the year it splashed the story over its front page. (Either investigating as it said, or, according to its detractors, hoping that the SLD would fold on the media law).
Then came the parliamentary investigative commission which the SLD tried to create a dominant partisan majority in. It partly succeeded, with the exception of the SLD commission chairman, who lived up to his reputation for honesty. At the end it was still not really clear what Rywin was up to and who was behind him. What was clear was the remarkable level of corruption and cronyism permeating the SLD, mainly through a network of old Communist nomenklatura types - and Rywin was closely connected to all of them, even spoke with the SLD media chiefs before and after each Agora meeting.

Four different reports were issued. One by a loyal SLD member - there's nothing to see, nothing happened, just one extortionist trying to bluff his way into some money. THe main opposition leader, Jan Rokita, slammed both the SLD and Agora (on Agora he had plenty of plausible speculation and absolutely no hard evidence). The commission chairman also issued a plausible report, mainly slamming the SLD which he was in the process of leaving. Then the harshest report mainly blaming the SLD by an opposition rival of Rokita's calling for criminal proceedings against the ex PM, the President and a bunch of other senior and one by the populist nutcases who actually recommended little action at all, while blaming everyone.

Now to today's events.
In the parliamentary voting it was clear that the whitewash report had no chance of passing. So the SLD members chose to vote tactically - for the populist report, and for the one by the secondary opposition party. In multiple round voting that eliminated all the other reports, and the SLD clearly hoped that it could then get the populist report accepted with former SLD members (associated with the President) voting with the SLD for the empty bombast of the populists. It was wrong.

So now, after the vote, the SLD parliamentary speaker has said - all this wasn't a real vote. We need to vote again.

If anyone reads Polish
lots of stuff in all the papers. GW has plenty, but probably better to get Rzeczpospoita's perspective (GW is an actor in the mess)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Kidnapping in Warsaw

- Opinion-making daily Rzeczpospolita revealed that Warsaw has been plagued by kidnapping foreign businessmen. The biggest Turkish daily Hurriyet described the story of three Turkish and two Indian kidnapped businessmen. Four of them were released after the ransom was paid, the family of the Indian businessman had to pay one million euro. The fifth kidnapped businessman has not yet been released. Polish police confirmed that three of these kidnappings were reported. No details of the enquiry have been revealed so far. Several Poles were arrested and charged with participation in the kidnapping but lacking substantial evidence the police had to set them free. It is possible that the kidnappings were organised by another Turkish businessman, officially the owner of a transport company, unofficially a leading drug smuggler, who has been in hiding for several months.

and also...

Most corrupt country in region -

A survey carried out earlier this month in the 14 countries of central and eastern Europe found Poland to be in the lead position for corruption. Most Poles believe corruption to be endemic although only one in five admits to giving bribes.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Poland: Gay activists hit with eggs, stones
by Ben Townley U.K.

Hundreds of gay rights activists in Poland endured verbal abuse and had eggs and stones thrown at them as they took part in a march through the city of Krakow last weekend.

Around 800 people marched for their rights in the city, which has been a focus of gay rights advocates in recent weeks. Gay rights groups had planned to combine the march with a small festival of "tolerance," featuring art, music and films that were GLBT-friendly.

However, the Campaign Against Homophobia had complained that local media had started their own crusade against the group, claiming they had scheduled the event to coincide with a national religious holiday so as to inflame conservative groups and raise publicity.

The group had rescheduled the protest for Friday last week in a bid to avoid clashes, despite conservative and religious groups calling for the march to be banned.

At the march, the protesters were confronted with 200 counterdemonstrators, according to media reports, who threw eggs, stones and firecrackers at the marchers. They also called for "gays to be kicked out" of the city and country.

The protests and violence come as the country joined the European Union on May 1, despite being unable to prove that its human rights standards with respect to lesbian and gay people were sufficient.

"It is time for pressure to be put on the Polish government and Polish discrimination," the Campaign Against Homophobia said in a statement last week.

"We sincerely hope the European Union ideas about integration are not merely empty words," it added.

Posted May 11, 2004

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Polish police kill man accidentally

POLISH police accidentally shot and killed a 19-year-old man when they mistakenly fired live bullets to stop a street fight. A 23-year-old woman also was in critical condition after being shot in the head and two others were seriously injured after the fighting in Lodz.

Police said fighting began when a group of football fans attacked students. When police intervened, the attackers threw bottles and stones at officers, who retaliated with rubber bullets. But at one point, police reloaded their weapons with live bullets by mistake and fired six shots.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A soccer game they were attending in southern Poland ended in violence Monday evening.

More than 80 police officers and soccer fans in Chorzow were treated for injuries after a bloody riot erupted at the end of the match.

The fighting eventually ended when riot police were called in to force back the raging soccer hooligans with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.

More than 50 fans were arrested during the fighting.

At least one policeman remains in serious condition this morning.