Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Poland: Sacked deputy prime minister rejects corruption allegations

Poland's former deputy prime minister, Andrzej Lepper, on Wednesday rejected corruption allegations hanging over him as a deliberate "political provocation," but reiterated that his party would remain in the shaky governing coalition.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski fired Lepper, who leads a junior coalition partner, Self-Defense, as deputy premier and agriculture minister Monday after anti-corruption police linked him to a major corruption case.

But the story, which has gripped Poland, took a new twist Wednesday as details surfaced that the Anti-Corruption Office, created by Kaczynski's Law and Justice party, had conducted a sting operation against two allegedly corrupt businessmen who had boasted of their ties to Lepper.

Anti-Corruption Office chief Mariusz Kaminski outlined the agency's sting against the two businessmen, identified only as Piotr R. and Andrzej K. in line with Polish privacy laws. Police arrested both men last week.

In justifying the suspicions against Lepper, Kaminski described Piotr R. as a person "very closely tied to the leadership of Self-Defense, and having real, frequent contact with Andrzej Lepper."

The agency launched the operation in January. Undercover agents posing as businessmen struck a deal with Piotr R. and Andrzej K. to pay them 3 million zlotys (US$1.1 million; €800,000) in exchange for using their close ties to the Agriculture Ministry to rezone lakeside land for development in northeastern Poland, Kaminski said.

After a six-month operation, agents agreed to meet with the suspects last week at a hotel to swap the money for the necessary signed and stamped documents from the ministry, Kaminski said. He added that the agency used legally faulty documents to dupe the businessmen, and that agents taped and documented everything over the course of the sting.

"We didn't know the shadow of suspicion would fall on the agriculture minister when we started the operations," Kaminski said. But he also said that "the goal of the agency is to fight corruption in the sphere of power."

Lepper called the sting operation a "prepared political provocation" aimed at him, and called for the parliamentary committee for special services and the justice committee to investigate the issue.

"According to my information, I can tell you today that the provocation was prepared against me as a person, someone who is a threat as a party chief and eventual candidate for president in 2010 elections," Lepper said.

Lepper was a candidate in the 2005 presidential race. He took 15 percent of the vote in the first round of the two-round contest, finishing third behind eventual winner Lech Kaczynski, the prime minister's twin brother.

Kaminski rejected the accusations: "This is not a political issue, this is a fight with corruption."

The premier dismissed Lepper's criticism of the Anti-Corruption Office and said it had engaged in "normal, legal" actions.

"The operation was not directed against Andrzej Lepper, but instead against two men who have been arrested," Kaczynski told reporters in the Baltic port town of Swinoujscie. "Nobody knew at the beginning (of the investigation) that it would lead to Andrzej Lepper."

On Tuesday, Self-Defense opted to stay in the governing coalition, but demanded that authorities present proof by Friday of Lepper's alleged wrongdoing.

The prime minister brushed aside that demand, saying that presenting such evidence is a matter for prosecutors and courts.

Self-Defense's decision to stay put staves off the immediate threat of fresh elections, and keeps the governing coalition's majority in parliament intact — at least for now.

In comments published earlier Wednesday in the Fakt daily, Prime Minister Kaczynski praised Self-Defense's decision, calling it "the best way out" of the current turbulence.

But, he added guardedly: "We'll see whether it will last."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Polish PM fires deputy in scandal

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski fired his deputy, Andrzej Lepper, on Tuesday amid allegations of bribery.

Lepper is the leader of the Self Defense party, a junior coalition member with 46 seats in the 460-seat parliament.

Soon after being fired, Lepper withdrew his party from the coalition, raising the possibility a general election will have to be called two years ahead of schedule, a BBC correspondent reported.

"The aggression of the opposition makes it impossible to have a minority government", Kaczynski told a Warsaw news conference.

Without Lepper's party, Kaczynski can only count on 203 parliamentary votes, short of the 231 required for a majority.

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance later said in a statement it would seek a no-confidence vote to force an early election, the report said.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Nurses “White city” illegal?

Head of Masovian Voivodeship Jacek Sasin has found nurses’ protest illegal and called on Warsaw’s President Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz to remove tents from the lawn in front of PM’s office. Gronkiewicz-Waltz, however, holds the protest to be legal.

Sasin argues that OZZPiP had permission to hold a protest only on June 19 between 12 and 3 p.m.

But from that moment on the nurses have continuously been picketing the PM’s office.

“The government and the head of the voivodeship want to use me to solve the problem, but I will not do them this service,” Warsaw’s President Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz responded.

Gronkiewicz-Waltz added that expert lawyers whom she consulted believe that “the gathering is legal and has received an appropriate permission”. She also pointed out that she “has a different idea of freedom of gatherings” than Jacek Susin.

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz stressed the fact that a gathering can only be dissolved when it endangers people’s lives and property. “In this case there are no such circumstances as this is a peace manifestation,” she said.

The “white town” of the protesting nurses has been standing in front of PM’s office since June 19.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Polish climbers freeze to death in Alps

Rescuers have found bodies of three Polish climbers trapped on a Mont Blanc glacier in Italian Alps.

ANSA agency informed that the Poles – Anna P., Jakub M. and Jakub S. froze to death in the temperature reeaching to minus 20 degrees Celsius. All of them were in their twenties.

Difficult weather conditions hampered the rescue operation on Mount Blanc, where three Polish mountain climbers had been trapped for two days by an avalanche at an altitude of 3600 metres.

Rescuers attempted to reach the climbers several times but dangerous conditions repeatedly forced the team to turn back. For several hours there was no contact with the three.

Around 4 p.m., when the weather improved a helicopter was sent to take down the climbers but only the bodies were found in a snow hole they dig to protect themselves from freezing cold. They were trapped for 48 hours. (jm)

Ziobro warns of ‘sensationalist’ reporting

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro will go to Media Ethics Council with complaints about press accusations his ministry pressurized witnesses in politician’s suicide case.

Justice Minister Ziobro was apprently tipped off about the ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ daily publishing an article today concerning the prosecutor’s investigation into the suicide of ex-minister Barbara Blida ‘provocative’.

According to Ministry Ziobro, Thursday evening, the article was to present accusations against him and his ministry without context and manipulated fragments of prosecutors’ testimonies concerning Blida’s suicide.

“I just wanted to warn [the public] against it. Some people are spreading untrue information,” Ziobro added.

He also accused TVN’s “UWAGA” show of manipulating statements by Blida’s husband which indicated that he was treated badly by investigating officers.

“I don’t believe that Mr. Blida would consciously deceive public opinion,” said Zibo and accused the media of sensationalist reporting.

“We will go to the Media Ethics Council with this case,” the Minister announced.

Barbara Blida, ex-minister of construction in the previous left wing government died in a suicide a few months ago while police were searching her house in connection with corruption charges.

The circumstances of her suicide are still not clear and investigation about the action taken by the Interior Security Bureau in Barbara Blida’s house continues.

The Gazeta accusations

Gazeta Wyborcza claims that Justice Minister Ziobro was to visit Silesia on the day Blida commited suicice.

According to the daily, the prosecutors in charge of Blida’s case acted under pressure and their decision to arrest the ex minister was not unanimous. The date of arrest, previously known by the Internal Security Agency (ABW), was imposed by their superiors.

In June, the prosecutor’s office, investigating Barbara Blida’s suicide committed during ABW’s intervention, interrogated four prosecutors from Katowice, who had been investigating the case of coal mafia and its connections with politicians - mainly from the left. Barbara Blida, a former Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) MP and construction minister was among the suspects.

On the morning of 25 April, she shot herself dead when ABW agents, holding a search warrant issued by the prosecutor’s office, turned up at her home in Siemianowice (Silesia Region).

The prosecutors’ depositions confirm that the investigators had acted under pressure and were constantly monitored by heir superiors. They were expected to arrest all of the suspects.

“The level of the superiors’ interest in the case and the number of meetings was something out of the ordinary, previously unheard of, perhaps with the exception of the Orlen case. I had a feeling that the district prosecutor tried to control us”, said Tomasz Balas, one of the four prosecutors interrogated by ABW.

The prosecutors from Katowice have admitted that their decision to stop Barbara Blida was not made unanimously. The prosecutors Tomasz Balas and Małgorzata Kaczmarczyk-Suchan believed that it would have been sufficient to send Blida interrogation summons. They also said they had believed the case would have been used for publicity by their superiors and the Ministry of Justice.

According to the prosecutors’ depositions, a visit from minister of justice Zbigniew Ziobro and his press conference were to take place in Silesia on the day Barbara Blida died. Yesterday, minister Ziobro denied that - writes "Gazeta Wyborcza”.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Nurses to continue protest

After meetings yesterday between the health ministry and trade unions, medical workers announced that they will stay camped outside the PM offices and continue industrial action in support of higher pay.

“Three out of four demands of the strikers were fulfilled,” Health Minister Zbigniew Religa said. “This is just window-dressing,” retorted nurses after the meeting.

Minister Religa said he evaluated the chance to reach an agreement with the protesting nurses and doctors to be as high as 70 percent. As Religa stressed, out of four nurses’ demands three were fulfilled completely and one partially.

The first demand was to sustain the 30 percent pay rise from the previous year; second – to take the money for the rises from the, so called, second stream, that is - not from the funds given to hospitals for medical services; third – to control the money spent by hospitals’ directors by means of the National Health Fund (NFZ) and the National Labour Inspectorate; fourth – the possibility to use 40 percent of the additional funds given to hospitals by NFZ for salaries.

Leaving the meeting Minister Religa said that there is no chance for pay rises higher than the sustained 30 percent this year.

However, he stressed that there is a possibility to use additional funds from NFZ also for salaries of health service employees.

Trade unions’ representatives agreed to meet on Tuesday for the next round of talks this time concerning the so called collective agreement which would guarantee them the minimum wages in the subsequent years.

“There is a light in a tunnel,” vice-head of the Polish Doctor’s Trade Union (OZZL) Tomasz Underman commented the talks with the Health Minister.

Health care employees’ protests continue throughout the country; more and more doctors go on hunger strike.

Health Minister Zbigniew Religa is to continue talks with various health care trade unions concerning pay rises and ending the protests.

Poland nursing a grudge

The EU deal that wasn't; striking doctors and nurses; and the Father Henryk Jankowski – Mel Gibson connection: the usual weird and wonderful stories out of Poland didn’t stop just because I went on holiday.

For the last two weeks now, nurses have joined doctors and come out on strike and camped themselves, literally, opposite the prime minister’s office. Just half a kilometer from where I live, a line of tents – a ‘white city’ - has emerged on the plush Ujazdowski Avenue, and lining the lush Lazinki Park.

Work to rule, even hunger strikes have been part of the protest – these people are pretty desperate. Not hard to imagine why as both sets of workers get less than the national wage for doing a job that requires a much higher than average level of skills and training.

The government has been unsympathetic (unlike the general public) to their plight and repeatedly claimed that ‘there is no more money’ – as they waste billions sending armed forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, and elsewhere besides.

The latest news appears to be an offer by health minister Zbigniew Religa for a 30 percent pay rise… next year. The nurses and doctors must be tempted to take the offer and pack up their tents.

EU agreement that wasn’t

Chancellor Merkel must have felt proud of herself when she got Poland to sign up to the new EU Treaty, an agreement which included Warsaw accepting a new method of voting that decreased its influence in Brussels. This was a surprise as the ‘square root’ method favoured by the Polish government was something that the Kaczynskis claimed was ‘worth dieing for…’.

Well, President Lech Kaczynski had to come home from the summit in Germany with his tail between his legs and very much alive.

Unfortunately, his brother, PM Jaroslaw appears to have been none too pleased by Lech’s work abroad. He suddenly announced days after the deal was signed and sealed that, in fact, Warsaw did not accept the deal. He said that it was unfair to relate the voting weight of a country to the size of its population. Why? “Because Poland’s population would have been much larger than the current 38 million if not for the Nazis (and Soviets) murder during WW II.”


This is indeed a strange argument. Should Ireland be given greater voting strength in the EU because it suffered a 25 percent decrease in its population during the Potato Famine of the 1840s?

As someone said to me at work today – to think something like that in private is understandable, but to use it as a negotiating tactic is ludicrous.

A better argument would have been to point out that WW II, and the Soviet occupation after it, severely stalled the lively development Poland experienced between the two world wars.

But even still – I don’t think even that argument would have increased Poland’s entitlement to EU structural funds.

Father Jankowski – a bit like David Beckham, actually

The Dziennik newspaper printed a story today revealing that the priest so prominent during the Solidarity strikes of 1980 has contacted Mel Gibson to direct the planned biopic of Jankowski’s life.

Funding for the new movie is no problem – some big name sponsors are ready to sign up. All the film needs is the delicate touch of Gibson, director of the film The Passion, which ultra-Catholic Jankowski obviously greatly enjoyed.

It was also revealed that Father Jankowski is releasing a new range of cosmetics – notably a perfume called HJ – and he is also, via the Jankowski Institute, opening a chain of cafes, which will be serving wine, vintage Jankowski, as every bottle has the priest’s face on it.

But what will this new perfume and wine smell and taste like?

Well some are expecting them to smell and taste of…anti-Semitism.

Jankowski has been repeatedly told off by the Vatican for his anti-Semitic statements. In 1997 the Polish Church was forced to ban him preaching for one year after these kind of remarks, reported by the Anti-Defamation League:

‘[Jankowski said]…in June 1995, with Polish President Lech Walesa in attendance, that members of the Polish government have secret allegiances to Israel or Russia, and that the Jewish Star of David was part of the Nazi swastika and the communist hammer and sickle. In December 1995, during a meeting at his Church, Father Jankowski said, "I have nothing to apologize for my [anti-Jewish] words...Why shouldn't we talk about such things as the murder of Germans by Jews? Why may we not talk about the Jewish-communist administration that governs Poland today? The reason is that they have banks, and everything else in their hands."
So will Jankowski become the new Polish David Beckham, endorsing all sorts of products, from wine to cosmetics, or is his ‘brand’ already tarnished by his ugly prejudices?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Immigrants won’t come back to Poland

"Gazeta Wyborcza" writes that as many as half of the Poles in Britain have no intention of coming home in the near future.

Emigration studies conducted for the first time ever show that their average monthly net wages amount to PLN 7.5 thousand (GBP 1.3 thousand).

A report "Polish Consumers in Great Britain and Ireland" was prepared by the ARC Market and Opinion Institute (ARC Rynek i Opinia) on the basis of questions addressing 1,389 people on aeroplanes, coaches and at airports in the UK and Ireland.

It is estimated that 1.5 million people have left Poland. Officially, 600 thousand are registered in the UK and 200 thousand in Ireland.

“Poles tend to settle in the British Isles, they earn good money, buy homes and bring their families. They improve their language skills and get promoted”, said Adam Czarnecki, Deputy Chairman of ARC Rynek i Opinia.

Typically, Poles are manual workers and labourers, they operate in the construction sector (20 per cent), restaurants (15 per cent) and hotels (11 per cent).

They average EUR 1,500-2,200 monthly after tax. The majority of Polish emigrants decide against going back home because of the discrepancy between the level of pay in Poland and the British Isles.

55 percent of Poles in the UK and 49 per cent in Ireland declare that they won’t go back home, at least not in 5-10 years.

The pollsters emphasise that a declaration to go back home in 5-10 years should not be treated as binding, because after such a long time, immigrants usually get assimilated, which makes their return to Poland very unlikely.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Polish prison labour to build roads, stadiums for Euro 2012?

As many as 20,000 prisoners may help to build the infrastructure for the Euro 2012 football championships, says vice-head of Polish Prison Services Col. Paweł Nasiłowski.

According to Nasiłowski, the possibility of employing inmates at construction sites of roads, stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure needed for the Euro 2012 finals is “being discussed”.

The vice-head of Prison Services added that the prisoner’s employment would be possible also thanks to the money from the Equal programme of the European Social Fund and that the construction programme could be used as a way of rehabilitating prison inmates.

“One should bear in mind that those convicts would be able to leave their penitentiary units in convoys and under supervision,” Nasiłowski stressed.

Col. Nasiłowski referred also to Pope John Paul II’s words, who during his visit to Poland in 1991 met with prisoners and told them: “You are convicted – that’s true. But you are not condemned”.

“We try to remember about Pope’s words and we ask media to present prisoner’s work in this way,” Nasiłowski said.

Poland hasn’t hosted a major football tournament before and several stadiums are to be built from scratch. There is also a severe lack of hotels and roads.

Meanwhile, Poland’s booming building industry is suffering from a shortage of construction workers because so many Poles have left for Western Europe in search of better pay.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Warsaw hospital evacuated

24 patients were evacuated from internal medicine ward of Warsaw hospital in Barska Street on Saturday due to doctors’ hunger strike.

The patients were transported to other hospitals because 11 hunger-striking doctors were no longer able to take care of the ill.

According to head of the internal illnesses department Urszula Cwyl, transportation was not dangerous to the patients, as none of them was in bad condition.

Indignant families of the hospital’s patients would not agree to transport their relatives to other institutions. “Patients have become the victims of this conflict. This is just like euthanasia,” they shouted.

“I have a right to strike, just like any other citizen. The problem is that the ill won’t have proper medical care in a day or two,” one of the hospital’s doctors explained.

The decision to evacuate 24 patients of the ward was taken jointly by the hospital’s director and representatives of Marshall’s Office, to whom the hospital is subordinate.

“In present situation I am not able to provide security to the ill. That is why we had to evacuate them,” hospital’s director Janusz Krzykowski said.

“I can not take responsibility if one of the doctors on hunger strike collapses while performing medical procedures,” he added.

The authorities of the hospital are creating a list of patients from other wards, who also might need consultations in internal medicine. They are likely to be transported to other hospitals too.

The situation in the hospital is likely to worsen. As of Monday also anaesthetists are to join the hunger strike. This means no surgeries, so the hospital’s operating would be practically impossible.

In the whole capital city as many as 16 hospitals are on strike – this is nearly every third institution.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Gay Poles head for UK to escape state crackdown

Polish gay rights groups claim thousands of homosexuals have fled the country to escape increasing persecution.
Robert Biedron, 27, the head of the Polish Foundation Against Homophobia, said that 'huge numbers' of Polish gays had left the country following the rise to power of the right-wing government. He said: 'It is incredible. The Polish gay community has just left because of the climate of fear and persecution.

'Most of the people I know are now in England because of the current political situation. Not for economic reasons, but because of the persecution of homosexuals going on here. It's impossible for gays to be themselves in Poland.'

He added: 'Around two million Poles have left the country seeking work and thousands of gays are among them. Many gays are approaching our foundation for help in emigrating to the UK.'

Kamil Zapasnik, 22, a gay student who moved to London because he wanted to marry, said: 'It's very important to me that I am able to have a civil partnership and adopt children. In the UK I have that freedom.'

Poland's Roman Catholic right-wing government has openly homophobic members and Polish media recently announced that the Health Ministry had created a special committee responsible for 'curing' gays.

The Deputy Health Minister, Marek Grafowski, said that the ministry was also planning to identify how many people in Poland were gay and work out a set of behavioural guides to assist parents and teachers so that they can recognise any warning signs of potential 'gay behaviour'.

Polish police have also been compiling a database on gays and the gay community in Poland which, although illegal under EU law, is apparently being done as part of a police investigation into a bomb threat two years ago by a gay man. He had reportedly identified himself as a member of the gay community who was angry when a gay rights march was banned in Warsaw.

'The police are not allowed to catalogue "homosexual data", but it's enough to look into the police investigation associated with the bomb in order to establish a list of names and addresses,' said Ewa Kulesza, a former personal data protection general inspector.

It is not just the police who are openly homophobic. Lech Wojtewski, 23, from Warsaw, said his doctor had referred him to a vet when he went to for a check-up. 'He told me there was a specialist for people like me and gave me an address. When I got there it was a vet.

'I called him and he said, "What did you expect? You are an animal".'

When Krystian Legierski, 29, opened a gay club, Le Madame, it was shut down by Warsaw local authorities who hired private security guards to break down the doors, despite an appearance there by John Malkovich a day earlier.

'I understand why people emigrate, but injustice can only be rectified by resistance, not emigration,' Legierski said.