Magazine article The Spectator

Slippery Pole

Magazine article The Spectator

Slippery Pole

Article excerpt

IN elections held last September, the people of Poland chose a man named Leszek Miller to be their prime minister. After this happened, I sat back and waited for the reaction in Western Europe. I waited, and I waited. Nothing happened.

Then, at last, the reaction came. Last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain and Prime Minister Leszek Miller of Poland published a joint article in Rzeczpospolita, Poland's newspaper of record. `The need to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the European Union has been under discussion for a very long time,' this unusually opaque piece of writing began. It then continued, with much talk of `public participation' in European institutions, many rhetorical questions (`Why do Europeans need the European Union?') - and, well, you can imagine the rest.

I had, it is true, heard rumours of the new, close relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Miller. During the Polish Prime Minister's first visit to London, the two supposedly spent three hours bonding in Downing Street. Up to a point, this is as it should be. Poland is the largest of the candidate members of the European Union, and, within a mere two years, if all goes as planned, it will have the same number of Euro MPs and the same number of votes in the European Council as Spain. It speaks well of Blair that he has had the forethought to court a leading Polish politician. Still, I was taken aback by his public chumminess with this particular Polish politician, and by the enthusiastic tones of their joint, lavish praise for 'democracy'.

Let me introduce you to Tony's new Polish friend: meet Leszek Miller. These days he smiles a lot, and has studiously learnt to speak passable English. In a previous incarnation (I first met him about 12 years ago) he smiled less. At that time he was a member of the Politburo of the Polish Communist party, and was best known as a member of the party's 'beton' wing - concrete blockheads, for lack of a better translation - who stood solidly in opposition to democratic reforms. As late as March 1990 - a year after Miller and the Polish Communist party were both defeated in elections - he stated that `the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland will do no one any good.'

In 1991 he went a bit further, choosing to spend his holidays that summer in the Crimea, where he just happened to share a hotel with Boris Pugo and Gennady Yanayev, two of the leaders of the Moscow putsch against Gorbachev. The putsch took place a few days after that holiday ended. Had it succeeded, Miller might well have become prime minister of Poland a good deal earlier. But, although we don't know exactly what he talked about with Pugo and Yanayev, we do know that Miller had already had many close dealings with the Soviet Communist party. It appears that in 1990 he helped arrange for the Polish Communist party to receive a loan from its Soviet counterparts, delivered by the KGB, which was intended to help the party transform itself into the `Social Democratic' party that maintains such close relations with the British Labour party today.

The loan, $1.2 million, plus half-a-billion Polish zlotys, was an enormous sum at the time, and may well have helped both the party and a number of its members to find their feet in newly capitalist Poland. Polish prosecutors began an investigation into the `Moscow loan' in 1991, and got as far as stripping Miller of his parliamentary immunity in 1993. He wriggled out of the investigation soon afterwards, however: his party regained power in a previous round of general elections, and the investigation was hastily dropped.

Certainly, no one can describe Leszek Miller as ungrateful. Before being elected prime minister, he dropped a number of heavy hints, suggesting that he planned to terminate a gas-pipeline contract that the previous, Solidarity-led government of Poland had recently signed with Norway. The contract, which will reduce Poland's dependence on Russian energy, would also damage the interests of Gazprom, Russia's largest company, and of Bartimpex, Gazprom's closest Polish partner. …

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