This weekend Warshaw witnessed one of the most impressive protests during recent years. Thousands of Poles, mostly members of trade unions, protested against the policy of Donald Tusk’s government. By Saturday the protest had reached its peak. The demonstrators held banners and national flags, demanding more jobs and rights for workers and protesting against pension plan changes.
Apparently, prime minister Tusk, who just recently was re-elected as party leader, is sweepingly losing popularity. He still has two years to go before the next parliamentary elections, yet it seems that Poles will lose their patience even sooner. Tusk, the leader of the Civic platform, first became a prime-minister in 2007. His overwhelming popularity began to dwindle when the economy in Poland slowed down and the government had to undertake a few unpopular decisions, such as social benefits cuts and pension plan amendments.
The legacy of Donald Tusk’s government also includes many corruption scandals that will be remembered by many Poles for their audacity and impudence. Almost a year ago a local “Puls Biznesu” newspaper presented Poland’s own “list of shame.” Many well-known politicians and civil servants were included in that list, including senators from Tusk’s own Civic Platform, deputy ministers and two former ministers. One of them was Alexander Grad, ex-minister of finances in the Tusk government, an influential businessman and high-ranking official.
During recent years, his name was often linked with the misuse of state companies’ funds and resources. The marriage between political power and wealth resulted in major influence of Grad and his circle over the Polish economy. The founder of Malopolska Grupa Geodezyino-Projektowa (MGGP), Grad succeeded in getting the grip on a few dozen prestigious EU “Infrastructure and Environment” tenders.
Apparently, some contracts were won even without holding a tender. At that time, Aleksander Grad was the head of the subcommision on monitoring the introduction of IACS (Integrated Administration and Control System). The public prosecutor decided to investigate the affair, since MGGP was managed by no other than Grad’s own wife.
The local watchdog groups became alarmed by Grad much earlier, during his term as governor of the Tarnaw province back in the nineties. Many journalists who covered his activities back then often called him “King Alexander,” pointing at the harsh governing methods and arbitrariness that was a distinctive feature of his time in office. Nowadays, he heads PGE and PGE Nuclear Energy – two governmental agencies that are in charge of development of Poland’s first nuclear plant.
The goal is to build such a plant in 10 years, yet today, considering the serious economic crisis in the country and the widespread protests it’s not at all clear whether Poland can afford such an ambitious program. The annual budget of these agencies is almost 3.5 million euro and many local analysts doubt that this money is well spent. Especially since in late May 2013 the Central Anti Corruption Bureau of Poland said there were many irregularities in the work of both agencies during 2010-2011. The case was reported to the prosecutor’s office.
Many other corruption scandals erupted in recent years as well. In 2009 two ministers of the Cabinet had to resign, and the head of the anti-corruption body in Poland was dismissed, following what was called a “slut machine” scandal. A year later, a minister of sports resigned when serious charges of corruption were addressed at him.
Certainly, there are many other problems in Poland other than corrupt politicians and businessmen. But if no urgent matters will be taken and the workers’ rights, minimum wage and pension plans continue to suffer, and the corruption will go deeper, then eventually the current crisis in the economy will grow and more Poles will leave the country to seek a better future.
As for today, 1.5 million Poles work outside the country, which means that Poland is already lacking heads, hands and talent. Today the members of unions who promise to come back for more protests voice out the demand for a better future. The question is whether the current government will be able to handle this challenge.