KATOWICE, Poland--It was to have been the pivotal moment in a political drama that has had millions of Poles glued to their televisions. Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s testimony before a commission called to investigate a corruption scandal involving Poland’s political and media elite certainly proved dramatic but ultimately shed little light on the scandal. The chief effect appears to have been to undermine Miller’s already weak political standing.
Testifying on 28 April, the prime minister denied all suggestions that he had asked a leading Polish film producer, Lew Rywin, to solicit a bribe from a leading newspaper. The paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, is owned by a Polish media giant, Agora, which is interested in buying a private television channel.
In the original form of a new media bill, owners of national newspapers would have been banned from owning a national television channel. Rywin, whose credits include co-production work on the Oscar-winning films “The Pianist” and “Schindler’s List,” said that the “group holding power” would be willing to change that clause for $17.5 million.
Miller dismissed the possibility that his government had sought a bribe, calling it “absurd.” “There was no need for a middleman,” he said, as “a compromise had been reached” by the time Rywin made his proposition, in the summer of 2002. The bill’s passage through the Polish parliament, the Sejm, has been suspended for the duration of the investigation.
He repeatedly suggested that the scandal was an attempt to compromise his party and government. “I will never give up efforts to find out who implicated me and the Democratic Left Alliance in a situation which is supposed to compromise us, and why,'' he told the committee.
The editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, former dissident Adam Michnik, has repeatedly said that Miller was not involved in the scandal and that “Miller uncovered the swindler,” Rywin, in a meeting of the three.
The scandal, promptly dubbed “Rywingate,” has dominated the front pages of the Polish newspapers for months, contributing to a period of political crisis for Miller and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). His governing coalition, in power only since September 2001, lost its majority two months ago when Miller dismissed a junior coalition party, and two ministers resigned in April. Miller then offered to call a general election in a year’s time in a bid to see through a reform package prior to Poland’s entry into the European Union in May 2004. The sense of political crisis has been heightened by repeatedly expressed concerns that fewer Poles might say yes to EU accession in a referendum scheduled for 8 June.
Concern over the scandal’s impact on the country’s entry into the EU was also one reason given by Michnik for waiting almost half a year before breaking the story.
However, support for membership is currently running well above the 50 percent needed for the yes camp to win the referendum.
The Miller government’s ratings have been affected to a far greater extent. The government, which already faced a loss of confidence last year--with unemployment rising to nearly 20 percent, the economy sputtering, and the country being increasingly seen as the one least ready for EU membership--has seen its approval ratings fall further this year, to around 10 percent in April.
Miller’s performance appears to have done little to improve his own fortunes and boost his party and government. A PBS opinion poll conducted immediately after the testimony showed that 60 percent of Poles thought Miller had performed “badly” or “very badly,” while just 20 percent thought he had done well. There also appeared to be a common perception that Miller’s much-anticipated appearance had done little to help the investigation. Nearly half (48 percent) thought his answers shed little light on the scandal, while 24 percent felt his responses had hindered the inquiry.
This was not what Miller had anticipated. Going into the testimony, he promised complete openness and asserted that whoever had linked him to the scandal would be “laid to rest in a political grave.”
The gravediggers are instead now out for Miller himself. The left-wing weekly Nie, which, in an editorial with the telltale headline “Who Will Push Him?”, concluded that “the left will either actively help Miller go or will deteriorate even further under his leadership.”
ZIOBRO VS. MILLER
Miller’s appearance before the commission effectively turned into a grueling seven-hour duel with Zbigniew Ziobro, a political opponent and member of the right-wing Law and Justice party. Few others in the 10-member commission had a chance to pose questions.
Slow in his delivery and seemingly ill-prepared, Ziobro used the same thrust repeatedly, questioning why Miller had not, as required by law, informed the prosecutor-general about Rywin’s apparent attempt at corruption.
Miller answered that he had seen no need to, as the whole thing seemed absurd and “incredible and improbable.'' He appeared impatient with Ziobro’s persistence on the same point, which took up most of the hearing. Miller accused Ziobro of deliberately prolonging the testimony to get as much airtime as possible. The session was carried live on two national television channels.
The clash had been sharp from the outset. Miller made clear his dislike of Ziobro when his opponent posed his question. Asked whether he tapes conversations that take place in his office, Miller replied: “Please do not assume that your habits are mine as well.”
However, the sharpest point in the exchange came when, in the final minute, Ziobro wanted to know Miller’s reaction to claims that the alleged assassin of a police commissioner had been seen together with major SLD figures.
“There’s only one word to describe your behavior: despicable,” riposted Miller.
Ziobro parried, saying, “I see that you’re not going to answer the question other than with an insult. I understand that getting to know the truth can be painful at times.”
“You’re a nobody,” Miller ended, visibly irritated.
Miller later defended his outburst, telling journalists that the commissioner, Marek Papala, had been a personal friend. “I couldn’t be silent when my friend’s death and tragedy of his family were used despicably for political reasons. Maybe you expect me to have nerves of steel,” he continued, “but I’m only human.”
A commentator for the left-wing Przeglad, Robert Walenciak, took the same view, calling Ziobro’s question about Papala “scandalous” and saying “no wonder … Miller lost his temper.” However, sociologist Ireneusz Krzeminski, writing for the right-wing paper Rzeczpospolita, said Miller “definitely went too far,” with “extremely arrogant” answers. “As the hours passed, we saw more and more of the former Communist Party secretary that he has never ceased to be.” Other commentators believed Miller was evasive in his answers.
The only paper to turn the focus away from the prime minister’s performance was Gazeta Wyborcza, one of the key protagonists in the scandal. Its coverage, under the headline “Investigative Commission’s Day of Shame,” criticized everyone. It implied that the commission’s chairman, Miller’s coalition colleague Tomasz Nalecz, had been biased, repeatedly disciplining Ziobro but not putting a check on what it saw as Miller’s arrogance.
For his part, Nalecz said: “The commission’s biggest failure was that both Zbigniew Ziobro and Prime Minister Leszek Miller directed their statements to their respective electorates.”
Nalecz was criticized by another commission member, Jan Rokita, who accused him of “poor management of the proceedings,” with the result that the whole session was dominated by just one person, Ziobro.
Rokita, commonly regarded as the commission’s most inquisitive member, will have his chance to ask Miller only in June, most probably after the EU referendum. Miller’s calendar is too full to allow him to appear again in front of the commission before then, his aides claim.
--by Wojciech Kosc
Media Notes: The Open Gate to Corruption
The Rywingate scandal is not just about corruption. It is simply an ugly flower rooted in a media landscape contaminated by over-politicization.
by Wojciech Kosc
30 April 2003
Profile: Being Adam Michnik
Leading journalist and anti-communist hero Adam Michnik has carved out an exceptional position for himself within Polish society. But does he have a political vision? From Rzeczpospolita.
24 April 2003
News: Bribe Scandal May Jeopardize Poland's EU Referendum
by Inessa Kim
11 – 17 March 2003
News: Coalition Collapses, Government Stumbles On
Majority government collapses, leaving Prime Minister Leszek Miller the task of steering Poland to the EU with a minority government.
by Wojciech Kosc
25 February – 3 March 2003
News: Miller To Be Put Through the Mill
The editor of Poland’s leading newspaper says the prime minister was not involved in a scandal in which the government was allegedly willing to amend a media bill in exchange for cash.
by Wojciech Kosc
4 – 10 February 2003
Our Poland country file (https://tol.org/client/article/category/regions/central-europe-baltics/poland) lists the latest articles about Poland, provides statistics and maps, and has links to resources, think-tanks, books, music, and film relating to the country.
Russia: A Mocking Bird?
Russia still questions the casus belli for the Iraqi war as the British prime minister tries to convince Putin, and the international community, to set aside divisions over Iraq.
ULYANOVSK, Russia--Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated that Russia will not support lifting sanctions on Iraq until international inspectors clarify whether the country has weapons of mass destruction.
At the same time, in a very public humiliation for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Putin scoffed at the U.S.-led coalition’s unsuccessful efforts to find weapons of mass destruction, the coalition’s stated reason for invading Iraq.
After meeting Blair, Putin also stressed that UN inspectors should return to Iraq and have the key role in establishing whether such weapons were in the country.
Blair’s visit to Moscow was seen by many as part of a broader effort to reduce tensions between United States and Britain on one side, and the three leading European opponents to the war, Russia, France, and Germany, on the other. In particular, Britain and the United States have in recent days been trying to win the support of other Security Council members to lift sanctions against postwar Iraq.
With Saddam gone, Blair said he saw no reason why “we should not be trying to lift [the sanctions] as soon as possible.”
But Blair succeeded neither in healing the wounds left by the war nor in winning Putin’s agreement. After talks called “tense” by some newspapers, and “constructive and confidential” by Putin, the Russian leader teased his British counterpart by once again questioning the very rationale of the U.S.-led operation in Iraq.
“Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if they indeed were in existence?” he asked. “We don't know whether perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere underground in a bunker, sitting on cases containing weapons of mass destruction, and is preparing to blow the whole thing up.”
Until then, or “until clarity is achieved on whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” the sanctions should remain, Putin said. He added that this was also the position of Russia’s partners in the UN Security Council. He continued by saying that a key role for the UN should not only be restored, but “should also be strengthened.”
The United States has insisted that the countries that took part in the military campaign, rather than the United Nations, should play the central role in restoring Iraq.
Blair’s diplomatic failure was the second blow in one day, coming within hours of a statement by the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg that they will create a purely European defense force independent of NATO.
Blair put a calm face on Putin’s rebuff, claiming not to be disappointed and asserting that the weapons would be found. “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and has been pursuing a program for weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time,” he said.
PERSONAL FRIENDSHIP VS. NATIONAL INTERESTS
Putin has had a good relationship with Blair since before he became president, and Blair has been willing to field public criticism in his efforts to court Putin. In 2000, Blair paid a visit to Putin days before Putin’s election to the presidency and in the early days of Russia’s second war in Chechnya. Since then, Blair has also been taken to task for not taking a more critical line on Russian policies toward Chechnya.
The quality of that relationship is now in question, although the setting--at Putin’s presidential country estate outside Moscow--emphasized the personal rather than formal relationship between the two men.
Prior to his trip to Moscow, Blair said, “We have always had very good relations with Russia, but there's no point in ignoring the fact that the last few months have been a very difficult situation diplomatically.”
However, after Putin’s mocking rhetoric, described in the right-wing British paper The Daily Telegraph as an “extraordinary public lecture,” the diplomatic situation appears no easier. The left-of-center British paper The Guardian went so far as to write that Blair’s much-vaunted personal relationship with Putin “appeared to be in tatters as Mr. Putin taunted Mr. Blair over Iraq.”
Meanwhile, a former British foreign minister, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a member of the opposition Conservative party, labeled Blair “naif” for “thinking that personal chemistry can overcome entrenched national interests.”
Certainly, Putin this week appeared to be willing to put national interests above personal chemistry.
The visit came at a time when Russia’s position in the Middle East and international organizations appears to have become less secure. Russia is worried that it may not be repaid $8 billion in debt that the Saddam Hussein regime ran up. On 30 April, Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin urged that the restructuring of Iraq's foreign debt, estimated at $60 billion to $130 billion, should be resolved by “all countries within the framework of the Paris Club of creditor nations.
More generally, there is deep disquiet in Russian political circles about what the U.S. victory in Iraq will mean for the shape of international relations. Several weeks ago, there appeared to be signs of a tentative rapprochement with the United States, while a meeting with the French and German leaders in St. Petersburg raised doubts about the triumvirate’s ability to act as a counterweight to U.S. power.
The meeting with Blair appears to have provided an opportunity to strike at the weakest point in the pro-war case presented by the United States and Britain, while at the same time again bringing to the fore the question of the United Nations’ role in the country.
Some Russian observers believe, though, that Russia could find Britain a useful ally. Lilia Shevtsova, of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow think tank, was quoted by the London-based news magazine The Economist in early April as saying that, by “joining Blair on certain issues, Putin could gain an invaluable place in the world arena.”
However, two very different views of the world were on show in Moscow. Blair told a press conference that he believed that “America and Europe, and indeed Russia too, should form a strategic partnership together, rather than set ourselves up as rivals to one another.”
Putin presented the issue as a matter of decision-making, adding that “if decisions are being made by just one member of the international community and all the others are required to simply subscribe to support those decisions, this is something that we would not find acceptable.”
The Russian political analyst Vitaly Portnikov, writing for politcom.ru on 30 April, presented a vision of a world that was neither unipolar or multipolar, the preferred terminology of French President Jacques Chirac. The world “will not be a multipolar one,” he wrote. “It will simply divide into two groups of countries,” with a core group comprising the United States and its allies, and a second group on the political periphery made up of countries that disagree with the American position but can change nothing.
Some of these peripheral countries will join the United States, Portnikov believes. Russia could be among the first, he predicted, when it turns out that its “allies from ‘old Europe’ are more preoccupied with themselves than with [Russia’s] ambitions and problems.”
--by Sergei Borisov
News: A Postwar Fog
Russia and the Kremlin remain angry at the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But the diplomatic messages may be more ambiguous.
by Sergei Borisov
8 – 14 April 2003
Opinion: Soiled by Oil
Western critics say the U.S.-led war in Iraq is about oil. In Russia, it’s peace that’s about oil.
by Vladimir Kovalev
11 April 2003
Opinion: Anti-War or Anti-American?
Russian “anti-Americanism” is not heartfelt antipathy, but anti-war sentiment fanned by government propaganda.
by Peter Lavelle
11 April 2003
Our Take: Making a Russian World Order
To Washington, Russia may again seem like an opponent, not a partner. With the old world order shaking, the Kremlin needs to be constructive--and find an international problem in which it would play a proactive role in solving.
18-24 March 2003
Our Russia country file (https://tol.org/client/article/category/regions/eastern-europe-russia/russia) lists the latest articles about Russia, provides statistics and maps, and has links to resources, think-tanks, books, music, and film relating to the country.
Croatia: Bobetko Dies
The death of a general indicted for war crimes frees Croatian government from a tight spot between The Hague and the locals who saw him as a hero.
ZAGREB, Croatia--Janko Bobetko, a retired Croatian army general indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY), died on 29 April in Zagreb at the age of 84.
The general had refused to turn himself in to the ICTY, pitting the Croatian government, which was loath to betray a man many viewed as a national hero, against the international court.
Some 20,000 people--mostly right-wingers opposed to cooperation with the Hague--attended Bobetko’s funeral on 2 May in his hometown of Sisak, reaffirming their opinion of Bobetko as a national hero who fought against Serbs for Croatia’s freedom. A day of mourning was declared in Sisak.
In September 2002 the ICTY charged Bobetko with war crimes against Serbian civilians committed during the 1993 Medak Pocket military operation. Bobetko refused to accept the indictment, vowing that The Hague would never take him alive.
But the ailing general had also refused to check into a hospital, which would have been his only legitimate chance of escaping extradition. Under immense government pressure, Bobetko eventually did check into a hospital, where ICTY doctors examined his health and determined him unfit to stand trial.
Bobetko served as the Croatian army’s chief of staff from 1992 to 1995. Upon his retirement in 1995, he authored a book, “All My Battles,” in which he described the Croatian army’s military operations in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. ICTY investigators used the book as one of their sources of evidence against Bobetko and other Croats suspected of war crimes.
The indictment against Bobetko enraged right-wingers, who attacked the government for succumbing to the authority of the international court and therefore allowing the “criminalization of the homeland war.”
Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan and President Stjepan Mesic did not attend Bobetko's funeral, though Racan, together with Parliamentary President Zlatko Tomcic, paid his respects at Zagreb's cemetery, where Bobetko lay in state before being taken to Sisak.
The three leaders sent their condolences to the general’s family, reportedly honoring him for his service to his country during World War II and during the 1991-1995 war for independence from Yugoslavia. But they avoided any mention of the indictment against him.
“The political scene in Croatia has lost a person who made a mark on several chapters of the country's political life,” RFE/RL quoted a cautious Tomcic as saying.
According to Bobetko’s close friends, one of the general’s dying wishes was to have retired General Mirko Norac in attendance at his funeral. Norac is currently serving a 12-year prison term for war crimes. In the early morning hours of 2 May the media was speculating that Norac would attend, but his temporary release was denied in the end.
Ivo Sanader, president of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)--the strongest opposition party--told those gathered to mourn Bobetko that despite the ICTY indictment against the general, there were no stains on his “noble work,” referring to Bobetko’s “battles for freedom” against Serb rebels in Croatia.
Commenting on the indictment against Bobetko, Ivan Basarac, another retired general, lamented the fact that those who had fought for Croatia’s freedom could no longer live in freedom themselves, especially given the current five-party ruling coalition’s desire to cooperate with the ICTY.
“If there is no freedom for [indicted war criminal Ante] Gotovina and Norac, there can be no freedom for anyone in Croatia,” Basarac said during the funeral.
Gotovina is still at large, and according to local media accounts, his was among the many wreaths delivered to the funeral.
The leaders of smaller nationalist parties in Croatia also attended the funeral, including Croatian Party of Rights leader Anto Djapic, Croatian Christian Democratic Union head Anto Kovacevic, Croatian Bloc leader Ivic Pasalic, and Croatian True Revival President Miroslav Tudjman.
Croatian Defense Minister Zeljka Antunovic excused herself from attending Bobetko’s funeral, telling journalists at a 2 May press conference in Split that there were indications the funeral would be abused for political purposes.
The defense minister said that Bobetko's family had refused some of the honors the ministry had prepared for Bobetko, and had chosen instead to surround themselves with a “different kind of people.”
Whether Bobetko’s death was the death of a hero or a criminal, his funeral represents the end of what was proving to be a very sensitive domestic situation and an untimely rift with the international community. The Croatian government now no longer has to honor Bobetko as a hero for the local nationalist population, nor denounce him as a criminal for the eyes of the ICTY.
--by Lovorka Kozole
News: The War Over War Crimes
by Lovorka Kozole
1 April 2003
News: Cooperate, Or Else
by Lovorka Kozole
10 February 2003
Features: For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Hague wants him locked up. The nationalists want him held up as a hero. The government refuses to give him up. Is natural death the only solution to the Bobetko question?
by Ivica Djikic
26 November 2002
Our Croatia country file (https://tol.org/client/article/category/regions/southeastern-europe/croatia) lists the latest articles about Croatia, provides statistics and maps, and has links to resources, think-tanks, books, music, and film relating to the country. For articles from across the Balkans, please go to https://tol.org/client/article/category/regions/southeastern-europe.
Ukraine: Media Circus
The president has approved a new law the government says is designed to increase freedom of the press in Ukraine. So why are independent observers still sounding alarms about the state of media freedom?
KIEV, Ukraine--According to the Institute of Mass Information--a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization (NGO) focusing on promoting freedom of the press and an official representative of Reporters Without Borders--Ukraine’s media freedom suffered serious setbacks in 2002. The report was released shortly after final approval of sweeping new amendments to the country’s media law and echoed the 30 April report from U.S. NGO Freedom House, which downgraded the country’s media from “partly free” to “not free.”
Although the 3 May report indicated that there had been no cases of journalists being murdered, three journalists did die or go missing in 2002, while four were detained and 24 experienced beatings, intimidation, and threats.
Twenty-three cases of political and economic pressure as well as 44 cases of censorship and impediment were registered. Almost 40 lawsuits were filed against the media, and journalists and media organizations filed 27 of their own cases.
The death of Ukrainian News Agency director Mykhailo Kolomiets--whose body was found hanging in a Belarusian forest on 30 October 2002--was the most notorious case involving a journalist. Investigations carried out on the case concluded that Kolomiets had committed suicide.
The year 2002 was also marked by the widespread influence of temnyky, or explicit directions sent to newsrooms by the authorities, the report indicated.
News about the media has been garnering its own press attention this spring as preparations begin for next year’s presidential elections.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in late April signed a bill amending Ukraine’s mass media law. The amendments define censorship and reduce the compensation for moral damages in suits against mass media and were approved by the Ukrainian parliament on 4 April.
According to the bill, Ukrainian authorities define censorship as “a demand to a journalist, editor in chief, founder or co-founder, publisher, distributor, or a certain media outlet to make preliminary agreement of disseminated information except in the cases when the demand is initiated by the publication or information’s author or co-author.”
In addition, officials are forbidden to interfere in the work activities of journalists and may not control the content or dissemination of certain information, ban critical reporting about the activities of certain officials and institutions, or keep secret information of societal importance. The establishment of any information-controlling authority is forbidden as well.
In accordance with the new measure, journalists are not subject to criminal persecution as a result of their opinions, except in cases of defamation and insult. Opinion cannot be proved or disproved. Opinion itself is defined as information that does not include any facts.
Authorities who take legal action to defend their dignity, honor, and reputation cannot demand paid compensation for moral damages but may attempt to disprove the accusations made against them.
The law also sets new fines of between approximately $50 and $160 for officials who refuse to provide journalists with information or who purposely give misinformation.
LAWS AND DISORDER
Media experts have given the new law mixed reviews. Maria Sambur, the head of the legal department of the Institute of Mass Information, told TOL on 5 May that the law would not improve the relationship between the authorities and the media.
“Ukrainian media legislation is very democratic and liberal, and it does not matter how many laws have been passed,” Sambur said. “What matters is that they work properly; we just need to put all our laws into effect.”
Sambur gave the example of the failure to implement Article 171 of the criminal code, which stipulates “criminal responsibility for prevention of journalists’ work.”
Serhiy Sholokh, president of the Continent radio station--an independent station that broadcasts BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and Ukrainian Public Radio--agreed that the law was unlikely to have much effect.
Sholokh said that the law must have undergone heavy analysis before it was signed.
“On one hand we have this law which seems adequate, but on the other, I am afraid of the implications of its reversed action,” Sholokh said. “This law allows pro-presidential media and political forces to sue the opposition, and opposition leaders will not be able to bring a suit against unfair journalists.”
According to Sholokh, it is no coincidence that the new law was passed in time for the 2004 presidential elections. He said he fears it will be used as leverage against the opposition’s candidate, although he admitted that it will be some time before the implications of the law are clear.
Prior to signing the law, President Kuchma was involved in a scandal involving five regional newspapers that had published articles critical of him. On 8 April, presidential spokesperson Olena Hromnytska announced that the prosecutor-general’s office had opened criminal cases against the five papers in accordance with a law prohibiting “interference in the activity of a state official.”
The official statement said that the articles critical of Kuchma were preventing him from properly carrying out his duties.
On 24 April, Kuchma met with journalists at his press center and told them that he had had nothing to do with the criminal cases and didn’t know which papers were involved because he doesn’t often read the news. The same day, he asked Prosecut