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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 30, 1999

30 November 1999, Volume 1, Number 26
President Vetoes Personal Income Tax Bill, Signs Two Others. Aleksander Kwasniewski on 28 November vetoed the personal income tax bill and signed another two bills (one on corporate tax and the other on value-added tax and excise tax) from the tax-reform package passed by the parliament on 20 November. The debate over the tax reform highlighted deep differences between the ruling coalition and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 November 1999).

Kwasniewski said he vetoed the personal income tax bill because the legislation contradicts the constitutional principle of social justice and because of the way the bill was passed by the parliament.

The bill provided for the gradual reduction of personal income tax brackets in Poland from the current 19 percent, 30 percent, and 40 percent to 18 percent and 28 percent in 2002. "As the president, in accordance with Article 126 [of the constitution], I stand guard over the basic law and in this context I understand the doubts concerning whether the proposed lowering of the rates [for the richest] while retaining unchanged the rates for the lowest earners is consistent with the principle set out in Article Two of the constitution of the Polish Republic, that Poland is a country where the principle of social justice is being put into effect," Kwasniewski commented, according to BBC Monitoring.

Regarding the procedure for adopting the bill, Kwasniewski said: "The ruling coalition has already been debating the reform of the tax system for 15 months. I never commented critically on this fact. All the more, therefore, do I think unjustified and detrimental to the gravity of lawmaking the ruse proposed by one of the coalition deputies, which consisted in rejecting [his] own bills in order to shorten debate and make it impossible for the opposition's proposals to be examined.... No law should be created in this way in Poland, regardless of what political forces constitute the majority--Right, Left or other--and regardless of the subject matter of the law. And I must say no to this unhealthy practice."

Poland's Ten Threats. Poland is generally acknowledged to be the leader of political and economic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe. The country has a single-digit inflation rate, 4 percent growth in GDP, a stable and convertible currency, and an abundance of consumer goods in the stores. However, there is also an abundance of problems. "Wprost" on 14 November listed 10 major political and economic threats to present-day Poland: a growing foreign trade deficit, rising unemployment, the economic slump in Germany (which accounts for some 30 percent of Polish exports), the painful consequences of Russia�s financial crisis, declining domestic support for Poland�s EU entry, excessive budget expenditures, the slow reform of the coal mining sector, a persistent budget deficit, state protectionism, and irresponsible statements by politicians.

Nostalgia For The Decade Of Edward Gierek. Edward Gierek, first secretary of the Polish United Workers Party in 1970-80, is now 86 years old and very ill. "Polityka" reported on 20 November that he lives with his wife, Stanislawa, in a villa in Ustronie, southern Poland, on two pensions: 1,267 zlotys (some $300) paid monthly by Poland's Social Security Agency and an undisclosed sum from France and Belgium (where he worked as a coal miner and trade union activist for 18 years).

Gierek took over the leadership of the party after Wladyslaw Gomulka, when the latter's regime forcibly suppressed protests against price hikes in Poland's coastal cities in December 1970. He was forced to step down in August 1980 following a wave of workers' protests throughout Poland and the emergence of Solidarity. In July 1981, he was thrown out of the party. After General Wojciech Jaruzelski's crackdown on Solidarity in December 1981, Gierek was arrested and spent one year in prison.

Gierek's rule has been variously assessed in Poland over the years. In comparison with Gomulka or Jaruzelski, Gierek was seen as a "liberal Communist" who avoided violent methods in dealing with those dissatisfied with his rule (with the exception of the police intervention against strikers at the Ursus metal works in 1976). He also introduced a "consumers' socialism model," largely owing to the West's lavish credits. At the same time, his policy of inflated investments is blamed for Poland's gigantic debts, some of which are still being paid off. That policy failed to produce any tangible results, for example, such as growth in GDP.

However, the economic hardships of the 1980s under Jaruzelski and post-communist transformation difficulties in the 1990s have created the public myth in Poland that Gierek was a wise and gentle leader and the decade of his rule a period of affluence and stability. That myth was considerably reinforced by a book, published in the early 1990s, called "The Interrupted Decade," which took the form of a lengthy interview with Gierek and enjoyed large sales. In that book, Gierek divulged that his policies failed owing to a Moscow-sponsored plot concocted against him by some of his party comrades.

At the request of "Polityka," last month the OBOP polling center surveyed a "representative sample" of Poles over 15 years of age. OBOP posed two questions: Did Edward Gierek play a positive or negative role in Poland's history? When was it better in Poland--during Edward Gierek's rule or today?

Of those polled, 54 percent said Gierek's role was positive, while only 19 percent deemed it negative; 27 percent remained undecided. Fifty percent said life was better under Gierek, while only 26 percent said it is better now; 24 percent were undecided.

According to "Polityka," the largest support for Gierek can be observed in the age group 40-49 years (in which 69 percent gave a "positive" evaluation and only 15 percent a "negative" one). This was the generation that entered adulthood, completed school, started jobs, and got married in the 1970s.

With regard to professional groups, the poll showed that Gierek is most popular among farmers (82 percent said their life under Gierek was better than now). This comes as no surprise. It was Gierek who introduced a state pension system for farmers in Poland. During the decade of his rule, the state established prices for agricultural products that were considerably higher than the production costs.

The present is preferred over Gierek's era by people in the age group 15-29 years, those with a higher education, residents of large cities (with a population of more than 500,000), specialized workers, drivers, businessmen, students, and in general those who consider their current material situation to be satisfactory.

Commenting on the poll, "Polityka" wrote: "Conclusions are evident, even banal. It is beyond doubt that for contemporary Poles the memory of Gierek�s decade and of him personally is conditional on how they live in and behave toward today's Poland. Indeed, being determines consciousness.... People choose from the past what they think was better than [is the case] now. They do not care about the real truth, the historical truth."

In recent years, there have been several attempts to publicly honor Gierek's achievement. A farmer from Lublin Province built a monument to Gierek but had to have it knocked down when it became an impediment to the careers of his children, who had taken up state jobs. Residents of a village in Mazowsze Province intend to build a gym bearing the name of Edward Gierek. And residents of Lomza in Podlasie Province have set up a Public Association to Honor Edward Gierek.

Yeltsin's Cold Delays Signing Of Russia-Belarus Union Treaty. Much speculation in the Russian and Belarusian media has followed the postponement of the signing of the Belarus-Russia union state treaty, which was originally scheduled for 26 November. According to the official version, Russian President Boris Yeltsin felt ill after a session of Russia's Security Council on 25 November and visited a hospital, where he was diagnosed to have a viral infection. The same day, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin called Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to say the 26 November signing ceremony in the Kremlin could not take place.

According to one unofficial version circulating in both Moscow and Minsk, Yeltsin took advantage of his illness to delay the signing of the treaty in order to prevent the current State Duma from ratifying it (elections to the Duma are to be held on 19 December). Another version has it that at the very last moment, Yeltsin's advisers questioned some provisions in the draft treaty and advised Yeltsin to feign an illness in order to allow the document to be changed. According to Georgii Tikhonov, head of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, the provisions questioned could be those dealing with the election of a union legislature and the possibility of creating Russian-Belarusian political movements within the union state.

An RFE/RL Minsk correspondent suggested that the postponement might be Yeltsin's revenge for Lukashenka's having called the proposed treaty draft a "laughing stock" in September. Lukashenka reportedly considered that the document did not "differ" from the union treaty signed in April 1997.

How Russian Image-Makers Helped Kuchma Win. During the election campaign for the recent presidential elections, Ukrainian newspapers--particularly those that supported the rivals of the incumbent, Leonid Kuchma--suggested that "Russian image-makers" helped the incumbent secure his election victory. However, no Ukrainian publication provided any details to support that suggestion. On 16 November, the Moscow-based "Kommersant-Vlast " made some revelations in an article entitled "The Victory of Russian Kuchma-Makers."

"Kommersant-Vlast" reported on a group of Moscow election specialists working in Dnipropetrovsk as a bogus "Fund for Interregional Ties Between Moscow and Dnipropetrovsk." The group was headed by Dmitrii Alekseev, director of the "School for Election Techniques." According to the newspaper, their work yielded a "phenomenal result" owing to three techniques: accusations that the incumbent's rivals were mentally unbalanced, the dissemination of falsified popularity ratings, and the spreading of rumors detrimental to Kuchma�s rivals.

The general message of Kuchma's election advertisements and posters was that the incumbent is the guarantor of stability and peace in Ukraine. His rivals were presented by the Russian election specialists as a threat to the country because of their alleged various mental disorders. Communist Petro Symonenko, for example, was portrayed as a "complete schizoid with a clearly defined 'enemy' syndrome." Socialist Oleksandr Moroz was declared to be an "epileptoid." Progressive Socialist Natalya Vitrenko was presented as a "hysteroid of a mixed, male-female type." According to Alekseev, this technique was effective because "Ukrainians are interested in Jung, who is translated and abundantly quoted [in Ukraine] a propos of everything. Since all Kuchma�s rivals were prominent personalities, it was easier for us to declare them crazy and build our campaign on this."

In order to discourage the so-called Kaniv Four election alliance of Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko from fielding a single candidate against Kuchma, the Moscow consultants provided falsified popularity poll results. According to "Kommersant-Vlast," both Marchuk and Moroz secretly believed that they topped the popularity ratings and therefore failed to compromise on a single candidate.

"Kommersant-Vlast" also reported that the Moscow election consultants spent $10,000 on "rumor disseminators," each of whom was paid $10 a week. The group, which was composed of representatives of different social strata, spread rumors favorable to Kuchma and harmful to his rivals.

"The privatization of the veterinary service has resulted in the better treatment of animals. I do not understand why people could not see any improvement [following the privatization of Poland's health service]." -- Real Politics Union leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Quoted by PAP on 23 November.

"If you do not want to see the fulfillment of my prediction that you will have to leave the presidential palace before the end of your term, do not sign the [tax reform] bills." -- Radical Polish farmers' leader Andrzej Lepper to President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Quoted by PAP on 23 November.

"The point is not health. The point is that [Yeltsin's] entourage does not want a normal, full-fledged [Belarus-Russia] union, while all the conditions for this union have been ripe and very favorable. I am not a doctor, but I know precisely that [Yeltsin's] illness is diplomatic." -- Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 26 November.

"The sabotaging of the [Belarus-Russia] union within the top political structures in Moscow is so enormous and the activities of Atlantic agents so strong that it is no wonder that nothing has happened for so long." -- Aleksandr Dugin, adviser to Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev. Quoted by Belarusian Television on 26 November

"We do not fly with this company." -- Former Belarusian Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, responding to a proposal to return to Minsk from the OSCE Istanbul summit aboard Lukashenka's plane. Quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 22 November.

"[Yeltsin] has lost his last chance to vindicate himself in the eyes of our people for the fact that he ruined the [Soviet] Union some time ago. Even if he were nearing his death, he should meet Alyaksandr Lukashenka to sign that document. Under the pretext of an illness Yeltsin escapes responsibility." -- Georgii Tikhonov, head of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, commenting on the postponement of the signing of a Russia Belarus union state treaty because of Yeltsin's "viral infection with bronchitis." Quoted by the 26 November "Vremya MN."