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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 23, 2001

23 October 2001, Volume 3, Number 40
NEW PARLIAMENT CONVENES FOR THE FIRST TIME. On 19 October, the newly elected Sejm held its inaugural sitting and elected its speaker as well as four deputy speakers. The Sejm was addressed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski and outgoing Premier Jerzy Buzek, who tendered the resignation of his cabinet.

President Kwasniewski told the Sejm that Poland's new parliament and government are facing "the greatest and most difficult challenges" since 1989, when the country discarded communist rule.

Kwasniewski noted that the inauguration of the Sejm's activities coincides with the beginning of the U.S.-led military campaign against terrorism. "After 11 September, after the terrorist attacks against the United States, the world has changed. Unfortunately, it has changed for the worse. We express our solidarity with our American allies in their fight with international terrorism. We are aware that we will have to act under more difficult, but hopefully not dramatic circumstances," the Polish president said.

Kwasniewski stressed in the Sejm that Poland "has no better option" than EU membership. He warned, however, that this option does not guarantee 100 percent success. "I want to tell my fellow citizens: Poland has already paid a considerable price for adapting to European requirements, but we should know that we are facing a challenge of an unprecedented scale and we are also aware that the distance between both parts of the continent as regards the economy and civilization is enormous."

Kwasniewski made it clear that he is aware of the opposition in the Sejm to the country's integration into the EU. "We know -- I can hear it myself at the moment -- that thanks to the composition of this chamber, the national discussion on Poland's position in Europe will be more controversial than it has been so far," he said, hinting at the existence of a considerable anti-EU parliamentary force consisting primarily of the radical Self-Defense farmers union and the conservative pro-Catholic League of Polish Families.

Buzek told the Sejm that the outgoing Solidarity-led government has paid its price for the implementation of necessary reforms. Those reforms, he added, "require corrections, but the most important work has already been done." He stressed that the Polish economy is still growing even if it is "not as fast as we expected." He noted that Poland is still witnessing an inflow of investments and an advance of privatization.

Buzek admitted that his cabinet has left serious problems to its left-wing successor, including high unemployment, "significant areas of hardship," and public finances in a critical situation. "These problems have been accumulating for a long time, and no other government -- not only my own -- has been able to resolve them," Buzek said.

Buzek noted that his government is leaving the state with "reinforced foundations" to its successor. "The future governments will be building further on these foundations," he added.

Subsequently, the Sejm of the fourth convocation -- which was opened by senior speaker Aleksander Malachowski (Labor Union) -- voted by 377 to 77, with one abstention, to elect Marek Borowski (Democratic Left Alliance) as its speaker. The Sejm also elected four deputy speakers: Tomasz Nalecz (Labor Union), Donald Tusk (Civic Platform), Andrzej Lepper (Self-Defense), and Janusz Wojciechowski (Peasant Party).

An unexpected event took place at the solemn sitting when senior speaker Aleksander Malachowski offered apologies to former premier and parliamentary speaker Jozef Oleksy for false accusations of espionage in 1995 that forced him to resign.

"The Polish prime minister was accused of espionage without any legal basis. Those wicked people who put forward that accusation were generously rewarded by [being nominated to] the ranks of generals, while the military prosecutor discontinued that ugly case because there was no evidence of guilt," Malachowski said. His speech was interrupted by applause.

"Prime minister, Senate speaker, let me say those missing words from this place and on behalf of the Third Polish Republic: Prime minister, I ask you to forgive people for the wicked act they committed against you," Malachowski added.

Deputy Antoni Macierewicz (League of Polish Families) left the session hall when Malachowski was apologizing to Oleksy. "[Malachowski's words] do not reflect the position of the Polish Sejm, only a private opinion of Mr. Malachowski -- his private aversions offend the government and the people of the Polish Republic," Macierewicz commented later.

NEW GOVERNMENT ENTERS OFFICE. Later the same day, President Aleksander Kwasniewski swore in Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet. "Mr. President, taking on the office of chairman of the Council of Ministers, I solemnly swear that I will remain loyal to the provisions of the constitution and the other laws of the Polish Republic and that the good of the homeland and the success of its citizens will always be for me the highest command," was the formula Miller pronounced in the presidential office.

Leszek Miller, the chairman of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), was also the last chairman of the SLD's predecessor party, the Social Democracy of the Polish Republic. He served as the minister of labor and social policy in 1993-96, minister-head of the Office of the Council of Ministers in 1996, and as minister of internal affairs and administration in 1997.

"We are just another in a line of democratic governments and will take over both our predecessors' successes and failures. Knowing this, we neither plan to start nor pursue any revolutions," Miller said after the swearing-in ceremony.

At its first meeting on 20 October, the new cabinet decided to freeze remuneration payments in the central administration and to defer the new graduation examinations by four years. The cabinet also decided to cut this year's budget expenditures by 8.5 billion zlotys ($1.9 billion). The cut is to be identical for all the ministries and amount to 6.5 percent of the spending planned for the year.

On 21 October, Miller nominated 16 provincial governors.

JARUZELSKI DENIES GUILT FOR 1970 MASSACRE. General Wojciech Jaruzelski denied in court on 18 October that he gave the order to shoot at protesting workers in December 1970.

"During the tragic events of December 1970, I did not violate the constitution, I did not issue an order to use firearms, I did not commit any crime," Jaruzelski stated in the Warsaw District Court, reading from his 80-page typed opening testimony. "The indictment is groundless. It includes crucial gaps, mistakes, and manipulations," Jaruzelski said. According to him, his case has "political roots" and is being reported by the media in a "tendentious way."

Prosecutor Boguslaw Szegzda said Jaruzelski's statements did not surprise him. "If arguments are lacking concerning the evidence, then arguments begin concerning those heading the proceedings or else the political aspects," Szegzda told Polish Radio.

Polish commentators believe that even reading an indictment in a trial of the 78-year-old Jaruzelski is a judicial success. The trial started on 16 October, following nine previous aborted attempts, after the court decided to exclude from the case one defendant who repeatedly failed to appear at previous hearings for health reasons.

Jaruzelski and five other defendants are accused of ordering and perpetrating the massacre of Polish workers on 17 December 1970. Jaruzelski, who was defense minister in 1970, is charged with ordering the military to fire on shipyard workers protesting price increases in the Baltic coast cities of Gdynia, Gdansk, Szczecin, and Elblag. At least 44 people were killed in the unrest, and more than 1,000 were injured.

Szegzda emphasized in the indictment that, according to the communist Polish People's Republic law, only the Cabinet of Ministers could have made the decision on using weapons. In 1970 the decision was made by the now-deceased former head of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), Wladyslaw Gomulka. None of the people from the highest authorities of the PZPR, who were present during the cabinet meeting dealing with the December 1970 protests, raised an objection to the decision, including Jaruzelski, Szegzda said.

LUKASHENKA PLEDGES TO OPEN 'FLOODGATES' TO PRIVATE BUSINESSES. "It is necessary to open the floodgates for the development of transparent and fair entrepreneurship in the country," President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a meeting with businessmen on 19 October.

Lukashenka asserted that Belarus has no fewer businesspeople than developed countries, but added that those people have little experience. According to the Belarusian leader, a "normal business community" has formed in the country over the last seven years. According to him, some 1.7 million people work beyond the public economic sector.

Lukashenka promised domestic businesses a substantial share in enterprises that are to be privatized. "I pledged during my re-election campaign that we will transform enterprises into joint-stock companies, sell shares in our enterprises. Money does not stink, this is a universal formula. And, probably, it is not so important where the money comes from. [But] for me this is important, I would like Belarusian businessmen to have a considerable share in enterprises that are to be privatized.... I say 'yes' to state control, [I say 'yes'] to foreign capital. But a share in the privatized enterprises should also be given to our businesses," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying.

"If we sell a 60 percent share [in an enterprise], at least 20 percent should go to [Belarusian] enterprises on preferential terms, because our [companies] are not as rich as others in the neighboring countries," Lukashenka said in explanation of his privatization policy.

The Belarusian president said the government is planning to grant a "one-year amnesty for capital" in order to return Belarusian businesspeople's money to the country.

Lukashenka noted that the government is obliged to submit before the beginning of the next year a program to liberalize the economy, create a favorable investment climate, and ease the tax burden.

He also pledged to cut short the list of businesses subject to licensing and review the system of tax breaks in order to curtail them.

KUCHMA SET TO SIGN ELECTION LAW. Following four previous vetoes, President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 19 October that he will most likely sign the parliamentary election bill passed by the parliament last week. Kuchma recalled that on the eve of the voting on the bill he met with a number of parliamentary leaders and reached a compromise. The Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Fatherland Party refused to back the bill.

The parliament on 18 October voted by 234 to 123, with 79 abstentions, to adopt a new version of the parliamentary election bill that was vetoed by Kuchma last month. Following Kuchma's suggestion, the deputies shortened the election campaign to 90 days. They insisted, however, on the provision that territorial election commissions obligatorily include members of the parties that won no less than 4 percent of the vote in the previous parliamentary ballot. As for more than 100 other parties, the bill stipulates that their representation in those commissions should be determined by drawing lots.

The bill abolishes the requirement to collect 500,000 signatures in support of parties seeking to register their candidates. Instead, a party is to pay a security deposit equal to 15,000 untaxed minimum official wages (some $48,000) in order to qualify for elections. Individual will have to submit 60 minimum wages ($190). The Communists and the Socialists claim their candidates are too poor to offer such sums, while their opponents argue that signature collection is more costly.

Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 19 October that the adopted election bill "will work for the team of the Ukrainian president." She added that 90 days is not enough to properly canvass parliamentary election candidates in the media. It appears that Tymoshenko is afraid that Ukraine's most influential media -- which are controlled either by the state or the oligarchs -- will favor pro-presidential and oligarchic groups in the elections.

If Kuchma signs the bill, the election campaign will start on 1 January 2002, while the ballot will take place on 31 March.

"All electors can be sure that I will not let them down and that as a deputy speaker I will not bring shame, neither to Poland nor to Poles. On the other hand, when it will be necessary to defend people who are being wronged, I will be Lepper. I was, I am, and I will remain myself." -- Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, who was elected a deputy parliamentary speaker on 19 October; quoted by PAP. Lepper's rise from being a firebrand populist accused of breaking the law in violent protests he organized to a top state position appears to be one of the most unusual political careers in postcommunist Poland.