Pole's upset as Vaclav Havel suggests international election observers

Vaclav Havel

There's quite some upset in Poland over comments made by the former Czech president Vaclav Havel. Speaking in Krakow he said international observers should be invited to monitor early parliamentary elections in Poland. The remarks by the renowned dissident and writer have provoked a spate of mostly critical comment.

Vaclav Havel
Havel's contacts with the democratic opposition in Poland go back to the pre-Solidarity period. Charter 77 was proclaimed in Czechoslovakia in January 1977, six months after the establishment in Poland of the Committee for the Defence of the Workers KOR, the first dissident organization in the Soviet bloc, which played a crucial role in the creation of the Solidarity movement. The leaders of Charter 77 and KOR met regularly in the mountains on the Polish-Czech border. Havel's writings were available in underground publications and in 1980 his plays were introduced into the repertoire of Polish theatres.

In the 1990's president Havel had several meetings with Polish president Lech Walesa. This time he came to Poland for the launch of the Polish translation of his latest best-seller 'Briefly, please', but during a press conference at Wawel Castle in Krakow he took the opportunity to comment on Poland's current political scene.

"I have the impression that free elections should be conducted in Poland as soon as possible. I feel it would be in the interest of all Polish citizens if international observers were to be invited to the elections."

It seems that Havel's remarks were prompted by allegations that the Polish prime minister may have used the Ministry of Justice and secret service to neutralize his political opponents. In an interview for Polish Radio, Bogdan Borusewicz, the speaker of the Senate and Havel's long-time friend, was very critical of these remarks.

"It was a very unfortunate statement in the context of Poland's international relations. A suggestion has been made that Poland is an undemocratic country."

The predominant majority of Polish analysts and politicians, irrespective of their political leanings, do not agree with Havel's assessment of the Polish scene. MEP Janusz Lewandowski of the opposition Civic Platform.

"Havel is a friend of free and sovereign and therefore this exaggerated statement to some extent reflects the bad stereotype which is now around Poland. Poland is seen as a country without proper democratic manners and habits. There we should see both the exaggeration and the danger of mounting prejudice against Poland and its democratic procedures".

MEP Wojciech Roszkowski of the ruling conservative Law and Justice.

"I'm shocked. Mr Havel's misinformed and appalling comments are part of a campaign of hysteria about the situation in Poland. He said he didn't follow the events in Poland but at the same time he jumped into conclusion that international observers are needed to make the elections fair. The responsibility for these horrific remarks falls not only on him but also on his Polish friends who misinform him and export their anti-government hysteria abroad".

And yet another Polish MEP Janusz Onyszkiewicz who's known Havel since their dissident days in the 1970s.

"Poland is not a Central Asian or African state. The democratic procedures and institutions - although some of them are under certain threat - are still very strong. So I don't see any reason why international observers should be sent to Poland. Any suggestion that Poland is in such a state that this measure should be applied is very unjust".

Former Polish president Lech Walesa said: "My friend Havel missed the target this time". And Poland's quality daily Rzeczpospolita headlined its story: Havel equates Poland to Cuba.