FEATURE | JULY 2014
Poland Rocked by Secret-tape Scandal
Illegal recordings of top officials shake up Polish political scene
Secret service raid on magazine outrages media community
by Robert Strybel
PAJ Warsaw Bureau Chief
WARSAW — Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s handsome, Oxford-educated, English-speaking foreign minister, whose wife is American, had epitomized the country’s strong pro-U.S. policy line. He heaped praise on Poland’s trustworthy alliance with America during President Obama’s recent visit to Warsaw. His private remarks, purportedly secretly recorded at a fancy Warsaw restaurant, ran completely counter to his official views.
“You know that the Polish-U.S. alliance isn’t worth anything,” he told former finance minister Jacek Rostowski at a wine-laced gourmet lunch earlier this year. “It is downright harmful, because it creates a false sense of security. It’s complete [expletive]. It will conflict us with the Germans, French and Russians, and we’ll think that everything is super, because we gave the Americans a [expletive]. Suckers (we are). Complete suckers. The problem in Poland is that we’ve got a shallow pride and a low sense of self-esteem. It’s murzyńskość!” [That term, which might be translated as “Negroness,” was a reference to someone doing somebody else’s dirty work. In this case it suggested Poland’s willingness to play up to Washington by sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan without getting anything in return].
This and other secretly recorded conversations were leaked to and published by the weekly news magazine Wprost for two weeks running with more expected to come. In another chat, Interior Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz asked Central Bank chief Marek Belka to bankroll the budget deficit to help the ruling Civic Platform (party) of Prime Minister Donald Tusk win the next election. That violates the political neutrality of the Central Bank which cannot get involved in party politics.
Former transport minister Sławomir Nowak complained that treasury officials were getting after his wife’s business dealings and was assured by a former finance ministry officials that he had blocked the proceedings. Other secretly recorded chats included backroom political dealing of the “hand washes hand” variety, peppered with rough language and off-color jokes. But the “hand-grenade dropped into the septic tank” (to use a popular Polish saying) after secret service agents raided the offices of Wprost magazine and roughed up its editor, who refused to give up his laptop containing the mysterious recordings. Nearly the entire media community was outraged and accused the government of using police-state tactics in violation a journalist’s sacred right to protect his sources.
CALL FOR RESIGNATIONS. One of the biggest government scandals of the past quarter-century has rocked the country’s political scene and triggered calls for the Prime Minister Tusk to resign, fire cabinet members Sienkiewicz and Sikorski, dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
“There is no doubt that the bugging operation is destabilizing and reducing the capability of the Polish state,” Tusk told a news conference. “The aim (of the bugging) is to diminish the reputation of the country at a critical moment for Europe and for the situation in Ukraine.” There have been speculations that someone in the employ of Russian intelligence might have had a hand in the bugging of at least a dozen Polish government officials.
But the prime minister has so far declined to make any hasty moves, opting for a wait-and-see approach. “First of all we must identify those who are behind this. Those organizing this criminal eavesdropping will not dictate whom the government should dismiss. No consequences will be taken against politicians using foul language in private conversations.” But he did admit that earlier elections might be needed if the crisis cannot be solved by other means.
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