Monday, December 29, 2008

Poland’s former communist leaders face pensions cut

Poland took a step towards slashing pensions for the country’s communist-era leaders after deputies in the lower parliamentary approved the measure in a vote yesterday. The bill, if it becomes law, would affect former president General Wojciech Jaruzelsk, currently on trial for the 1981 crackdown against the anti-communist Solidarity trades union movement, and many communist-era officials.

Since the senate, like the lower house, is dominated by liberal deputies, the bill is almost certain to be approved there before receiving the approval of Poland’s conservative President Lech Kaczynski. The bill covers all members of the communist party’s 1981 Military Council for Salvation of the Nation (WRON), set up by General Jaruzelski in December that year as part of a martial law crackdown on Solidarity. It also reduces pension benefits for agents of the communist regime’s infamous secret police who worked between 1944-1990. The bill addressed “an elementary feeling of justice” Liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk said after the vote.

“We’re returning normality to this domain,” he argued. “No one will have a higher pension (than others) due to the fact they worked for the communist secret police, but at the same time no one will be deprived of the means to survive,” he said.

The changes would revise downwards the generous indexation of pension benefits for former communist regime leaders and agents. It passed with 366 votes for, 50 against and 22 abstentions.

Poland’s communist-era generals and secret policemen would see their monthly pensions, which are now worth 8,000 zlotys (¤2,422, $2,750) fall to 2,500 zlotys (¤757, $860 dollars), according to Polish media reports. That would still leave them substantially higher than the average Polish monthly pension of 1,300 zlotys (¤300, $416). General Jaruzelski, 85, is already dealing with another challenge to his conduct during his time in power.

He and several other former senior communist party figures are on trial on charges of “communist crimes” for their imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981 in the move against Solidarity.

Jaruzelski, who has denied the charges, has long argued martial law was justified as “the lesser evil” preventing a civil war or an outright Soviet invasion in reaction to Solidarity’s growing strength.