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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 30, 2001

30 October 2001, Volume 3, Number 41
MILLER MAKES POLICY SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT. Premier Leszek Miller on 25 October addressed the Sejm with a keynote speech defining domestic and foreign policy goals of his newly created cabinet. Below are excerpts from that speech translated by the BBC:

On the preceding Solidarity-led cabinet:

"I am addressing the parliament in a situation when neither my predecessor nor the leaders of the parties which formed the previous coalition are present in the [Sejm]. This is an unprecedented case since the start of the Polish transformation. It is a result of a severe, but fair evaluation of the previous government and its political supporters, an evaluation made during the elections by the highest sovereign of the Third Republic, by the nation....

"The sign of a well-fulfilled obligation is to hand over the state in a condition which is not worse from that at the time of taking over power. In 1997, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) -- Polish Peasant Party (PSL) left the state in a good condition. After four years of their rule, first of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) and then of the AWS and its allies, the number of the unemployed increased to almost 1 million, the speed of economic growth went down four times, profitability of companies decreased to nil, investments which during the last years have been dynamically growing went down by almost 10 percent for the first time, society has become poorer, the areas of inherited poverty have widened, the farmers' profits went down, many of the Polish families have lost any kind of hope.

"For four years we have been shown how a government should not rule: chaos, waste of public means, conflicts, incompetence, and ineffectiveness were the characteristics of the previous term of office. It was difficult to find a month without a scandal, accusations of corruption, as well as examples of pursuing private interests and arguments over power. During those four years Poland lost much -- too much. We hear that it is difficult, that there were objective circumstances, that it had to be that way. It is not true, it did not have to be that way and it does not have to be that way."

On the government's main objective:

"The program of the government transpires from the program accord between the SLD, the Labor Union (UP), and the PSL. The aim of the government is not to administer the crisis it has inherited. Our aim is to overcome the crisis and lead the economy onto a path of growth.

"First, however, it is necessary to rescue the state from bankruptcy. This is the most urgent task of my government. This is also the basic condition for the implementation of our successive intentions: to create within the year the bases for economic growth, and a lasting economic revival through the whole parliamentary term of office, which will bring tangible benefits for the whole of society."

On the three-phase implementation plan:

"We see the implementation of these intentions from three perspectives. First, the coming 100 days. Second, the coming year. Third, the whole term of office.

"Over the coming 100 days, we intend to, first, stabilize the finances of the state. The budget gap is not an abstract illness for the minister of finance. It means a state of severe sickness and collapse of the state. It means the necessity of self-discipline and multiple sacrifices. The Council of Ministers has already accepted an ordinance sanctioning a [freeze] on expenditures for this year of the order of 8.5 billion zlotys that were [agreed] by the previous government. In the second half of November, we will put forward a draft budget for next year, and together with it a package of budget-related bills. The budget deficit for next year will not exceed 40 billion zlotys, whereas expenditures will not exceed 183 billion zlotys....

"The year 2002 will be the most important for the whole term of office: a year of credibility of policy being followed and of the arousal of hope for an improvement in living standards, a year of completion of negotiations with the EU, of the opening of new possibilities and perspectives. During this time, we will commence the implementation of the economic program for the period up to 2005. This program will constitute a tool, giving economic policy its specific shape, and also an indication orienting economic entities as to the most important priorities. It will also be the basis of social dialogue and an important indicator for foreign investors.

"A legislative package will also be implemented, under the name Enterprise Above All [Przede wszystkim przesiebiorczosc], that will create better conditions for the development of mainly small and medium-sized enterprises.

"We will undertake a deep amendment of the law on the public finances and of the taxation law. These will have as their aim on the one hand the increase of discipline of expenditures in the budget-financed sector, whereas on the other hand they will serve to civilize relations between economic entities and citizens and the State Treasury apparatus. There will also be a review of the taxation law so as to eliminate its loopholes and irregularities....

"Over the coming four years, we acknowledge the following to be such tasks: first, the lowering of the level of unemployment. Unemployment is a material, moral, social, and political problem. Millions of people without work are awaiting help. Granting it is our duty. And although economic growth is the main opportunity for the creation of jobs, we will not be waiting until it bears fruit. We will prepare legal solutions and economic incentives that should make it easier to employ the graduates of schools and higher educational establishments as well as easier to undertake activity on one's own account....

"Second, agriculture: it requires systems of economic and financial support modeled on those of the EU. The Polish countryside and agriculture and going through a deep recession. The feeling of hurt there is growing. The incomes of farmers and their families are significantly lower than the average. The countryside has become a garrison for an army of the unemployed and 1.7 million hectares of arable land are lying fallow or are turning into wastelands. A statutory guarantee of the fast payment of dues to farmers for agricultural crops is indispensable....

" Third, health: we will strengthen the responsibility of the government for the health policy of the state. We will return to the health and health-promotion programs that were given up by our predecessors and that give beneficial results, in particular [those for] cancer, circulatory diseases, mother and child protection, and also school medicine programs....

"Fourth, the safety of citizens: Poland must become a safe country. We will be promoting civic initiatives for order and public order. The wide application of organized, social groups...may constitute an effective infrastructure for the police in the struggle against crime....

"Tenth, the EU: next year, we plan to complete the negotiations with the EU. We say this openly. This is our aim.

"We value the efforts of our predecessors in this area. Nonetheless, for the attainment of the set aim, that is of Polish membership of the EU in 2004, it is necessary to implement a strategy that is far more effective than that followed hitherto...."

On Polish foreign policy:

"The tragic events of 11 September have in a drastic way reminded everyone of the old truth that individual and general security are not granted once and for all. They also recalled that a secure state is for the basic good of all citizens, and its assurance a fundamental task for the government. In this respect, our membership of the North Atlantic alliance has a fundamental significance. We feel that NATO should retain its original function as a defense alliance, but at the same time extend its commitment in the stabilization of security and the overcoming of crises in the entire Euro-Atlantic zone, and also effectively undertake new challenges, to which today there belongs above all the overcoming of international terrorism.

"In this context, the lasting presence and commitment of the United States to the security of our continent remains a key issue. My government will tighten bilateral relations with the United States and also allied cooperation with America in the framework of NATO. The alliance has many times declared an open-door policy. In my deep conviction, the continuation of this policy, which should find expression in specific decisions at the NATO summit in Prague in 2002, constitutes the proper reading of the most relevant signs of the times....

"We are pleased at the new climate and the new language and new initiatives that favor the activation of Poland's relations with Russia.

"Enterprising people and business people are ever more dominant in the relations of Poland with Russia. By the nature of things, they introduce into these relations a pragmatic language and effective activity.

"We will also consistently act for the deepening of dialogue at the deepest level. A significant impulse going in this direction should be the meeting between the presidents of Poland and Russia in Warsaw in January 2002.

"Our relations with Ukraine are characterized by stability in the strengthening of strategic partnership. We support the ambitious Ukrainian policy that is oriented in different directions, although for understandable reasons we are concerned with Ukrainian activity that is directed toward its western neighbors and partners, and Poland especially. On our part, we will do everything for Polish-Ukrainian relations to profile ever more the European identity of Ukraine and tie it more closely with the institutions to which Poland already belongs or will belong.

"It is impossible not to harbor a feeling of not being sated when we look at today's state of Poland's relations with Belarus. We will be seeking avenues and methods of dialogue, and as far as it is possible, a convergence of standpoints. In this context, we are particularly concerned with developing contacts between individuals."

COMMUNISTS RAGE OVER LAND CODE. Last week the Ukrainian legislature plunged into turmoil over the debate about the country's new Land Code, which includes a controversial clause allowing the sale of farmland.

Communist lawmakers on 25 October blocked the parliamentary rostrum in a bid to disrupt the planned debate of the Land Code and its adoption in the second reading. The Communists said the ballot passing the Land Code in the first reading in July was rigged. The protesters displayed slogans: "Selling Land [Means] Selling Fatherland" and "We Will Save the People's Shrine -- Native Soil." Deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk had to adjourn the debate. "If I am prevented from proposing a vote on the Land Code from my seat in the [parliamentary] presidium, I will do this from some other place, even from the third floor [of the parliamentary building]," he declared.

Medvedchuk was forced to take such emergency measures the following day, when Communist deputies blocked the tribune in a bid to prevent Agricultural Committee Chairwoman Kateryna Vashchuk from presenting the bill. When Vashchuk somehow managed to present the bill and it came to a vote, Communists yanked out wires to disable the parliament's electronic voting system. The parliamentary leadership ordered a manual vote outside the session hall, but some 15 Communist lawmakers broke the ballot box and destroyed most of the ballots. Another manual ballot proved to be successful, and the Land Code was passed by a slim majority of 232 votes (226 votes were necessary to pass it). Some 160 Communist and socialist deputies refused to vote.

On 26 October, Communist deputies walked out of the parliament in protest against the Land Code. Later in the day they returned to the session and blocked the aisles, trying to seize the tribune. Parliamentary proceedings ground to a halt. The Communists once again accused the centrist and rightist caucuses of falsifying the vote and announced that they will appeal to the Constitutional Court to rule on the 25 October voting.

The Land Code allows the sale and purchase of land not earlier than 2005. Moreover, the sale of land will become legal only after the parliament passes laws regulating the property market. In 2005-2010, the sale of land will be limited to plots not exceeding 100 hectares for one individual.

In Ukraine, as anywhere in the post-Soviet area, private land ownership is a highly emotional issue. The authorities consider the possibility of private land ownership a key element in their land reform, which is intended to transform the state-run collective farm system into a more efficient system embracing different forms of farming. The authorities also believe that the new Land Code will help attract foreign investment.

Ukrainian leftists, as well as many ordinary Ukrainians, fear liberalization of the land market. They argue that Ukraine's pauperized farmers -- who have been given land ownership certificates only recently -- will become victims of foreign businessmen and Ukraine's wealthy classes.

"There are no real prices for land in today's Ukraine. The Committee for Land Resources estimates that one hectare of land costs 7,000-8,000 hryvni. It means $1,500 for one hectare of Ukrainian chernozem, doesn't it? In Montreal, one hectare of land costs $15 million," Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko argued in a recent interview.

"Kuchma and the IMF Killed 4 Million Ukrainians." -- a slogan displayed by some 300 elderly protesters in Kyiv on 25 October, who demanded that the parliament increase pensions for war and labor veterans and write off utility payment debts for poor families; reported by Interfax.

"Instead of $1,300 paid by the UN, I got $800 [monthly]. In July 1992 Ukraine had to pay its membership fee debt to UN, and that debt was repaid with money for our battalion." -- Sergeant Andriy Kuzmenko, who served in 1992-93 in a Ukrainian peacekeeping battalion in Sarajevo; quoted by Interfax.