Poland slides deeper into crisis


By Frank Noakes

Hanna Suchocka, Poland's prime minister, has been granted extraordinary powers to deal with the many problems besetting the government as it attempts to force the pace toward a market economy.

Poland's experiment with parliamentary democracy looks increasingly tenuous. Suchocka's premiership over a divided parliament is widely seen as a compromise to stave off some form of dictatorial rule, possibly military.

President Lech Walesa has made it known that if this government fails, he will seek the prime ministership himself — thereby concentrating power in his hands. Walesa is an admirer of Marshal Pilsudski, Poland's dictator before the second world war.

Some former presidential advisers are suggesting that Walesa's right-hand assistant, Mieczyslaw Wachowski, has been holding secret talks with the military, preparing the way for a coup. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former aide, asserts that Wachowski "is a centre of invisible military schemes".

The National Defence Committee, which Walesa chairs, has devised a plan to cut the size of the armed forces at the same time as creating a rapid deployment force. Tellingly, Walesa stressed a dual role for the armed forces: external defence and an internal role against threats in the transition to the market economy. He didn't indicate whether strikes fell into the latter category.

A strike wave reminiscent of the early eighties is cascading over the government's attempts to impose more austerity measures. Tens of thousands of mine workers are on strike seeking a 30% pay rise; the aerospace industry has ground to a halt; and perhaps worst of all, as far as the government is concerned, workers at the state-run car manufacturer, FSM, are striking as privatisation negotiations with Fiat are concluding.

With inflation running at around 40% and living standards lower than in Romania and Bulgaria, it is little wonder that a recent survey found more than three in every four Poles believe that life was better under the old Stalinist system.

Disquiet at further "shock therapy", particularly with unemployment likely to top 17% by the year's end, is unnerving some of the 29 parties in the Sejm (parliament).

However, Suchocka is determined to press ahead with a mass privatisation bill over the next few weeks and believes that she has the numbers to ensure its passage. The bill would amalgamate 200 state enterprises into 10-20 industrial groups, with shares being offered by 1994.

This done, and that's the easy part, the government faces the difficult task of convincing foreign capital to invest in the long-term future of Poland.

That the organised trade union movement remains strong is perhaps the government's biggest and most enduring obstacle to implementing its program. Solidarity, the movement from which many government ministers came, including both the president and prime minister, is in decline. Ironically, independent and increasingly more militant trade unionism is now centred in the old, previously discredited, trade unions.

To add to the coalition government's problems, the Christian National Union party expelled its deputy leader for releasing police files alleging that many senior public officials, including Walesa, had worked as agents for the former Stalinist regime.

An attempt by the Parliamentary Women's Lobby to block anti-abortion legislation, pressing for a referendum on the issue, has failed. New legislation will prohibit abortion in all instances except where the woman's life can be proved to be endangered. Doctors performing abortions will face a two-year jail term. Suchocka supports the new bill.


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