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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 4, 2009
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Tusk Replaces Justice Minister
February 4, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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Prime Minister Donald Tusk has made his first ministerial change after 14 months in office. Zbigniew Ćwi±kalski was relieved of the justice minister portfolio Jan. 21 and replaced by Andrzej Czuma, who was a prominent opposition figure in communist Poland, two days later.

Ćwi±kalski, who had been a target for opposition attacks for months, was dismissed following a scandal after the third apparent suicide of a prisoner linked to a brutal kidnap and murder case that sent shock waves throughout Poland.

The 71-year-old Czuma is a Civic Platform (PO) deputy who chairs a special parliamentary committee investigating alleged political pressure on the secret services and the criminal justice system from 2005 to 2007 when the Law and Justice (PiS), Samoobrona and League of Polish Families (LPR) coalition was in power. Czuma was formerly a longtime anti-communist opposition figure who helped found the Movement for the Protection of Human and Civil Rights (ROPCiO), one of the country's foremost opposition groupings during the 1970s and 1980s. He was a political prisoner in communist Poland and worked for the Polish community in the United States during his time there. Czuma is a lawyer and historian by profession.

"I hope that the Justice Ministry under him will be an institution that works just as he has throughout his life," Tusk said at a press conference called to announce Czuma's appointment. Interestingly, his choice of Czuma was greeted positively by the opposition and the president. This was unexpected given the strained relationship between the government and the opposition. "Andrzej Czuma is generally considered to be a fair and honest man. There is a chance that the Justice Ministry will now start fighting crime instead of hounding opposition politicians," said Piotr Kownacki, head of the President's Office, Jan. 23 after Czuma officially took up his portfolio.

Krzysztof Putra, deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, also complimented Czuma. "I wish Minister Czuma well. I hope that he will fight crime in Poland tooth and nail and I wish him every success. It would be great if follows the trail blazed by former minister Lech Kaczyński and followed up by Zbigniew Ziobro," Putra, a member of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, said.

Jarosław Gowin of the ruling PO party said that Czuma would be a different kind of justice minister from Ćwi±kalski because he does not represent the legal fraternity and is first and foremost a politician. "I think he will focus on two important tasks-opening up the legal profession and increasing ordinary Poles' sense of security-and not on raising legal standards, which seems a bit abstract," Gowin said.

Czuma said that, as minister, he would try to draft as few new regulations as possible and would change the prosecutor appraisal system to encourage prosecutors to focus on serious crimes. He also said that he intends to make things better for victims of crime during criminal trials and then added that separating the responsibilities of the justice minister and prosecutor general was a priority.

Czuma has consistently advocated liberalizing Poland's firearms laws over the last few years, a stance deemed controversial by party colleagues, including the prime minister. Even some of Czuma's closest political allies, like Stefan Niesiołowski, deputy speaker of the lower house, say that Czuma's views have been shaped by his fascination with American regulations, which they say are of no use in European conditions.

"I remain convinced that the right to have firearms in one's own home should be broadened and that decisions on such ownership should be issued by local government bodies," said the new justice minister, before adding that Poland's self-defense legislation was not as bad as some claim. "But it does worry me that the courts interpret this legislation in a somewhat narrow manner."

Ćwi±kalski was dismissed following a scandal that broke after the apparent suicide of Robert Pazik in a prison in Płock, central Poland. Pazik was jailed for life last year for his part in the kidnap and murder of Krzysztof Olewnik, the son of the owner of a meat processing plant in Drobin, in central Poland. Olewnik was kidnapped in October 2001 and brutally killed later despite his abductors being paid a ransom of 300,000 euros. Pazik apparently managed to hang himself with a sheet despite being kept in a cell for particularly dangerous prisoners and under around-the-clock surveillance. An investigation is underway. Some suspect that he may have been poisoned.

Pazik's apparent suicide, the third such death of someone involved in the Olewnik case, has sent shock waves through Poland. Wojciech Franiewski, thought to have been the leader of the gang that killed Olewnik, killed himself in a detention center while awaiting trial in June 2007, not long after Olewnik's body was found. Sławomir Ko¶ciuk, who was sentenced to life along with Pazik, committed suicide in April 2008.

Czuma met with the Olewnik family during his first day on the job. The family has been demanding a full explanation of the circumstances surrounding Krzysztof's abduction and murder, as well as justice for all those involved, for years. "I assured them that my ministry will do everything in its power to prosecute and punish the perpetrators," Czuma said after the meeting. "The Olewnik family are people touched by a horrible tragedy." He also said a parliamentary commission would be set up to investigate the case and to probe a network of links between "police officers, politicians and criminals."

Olewnik's abduction and murder previously prompted accusations of incompetence and ill intent on the part of the police and suspicions that local businesspeople with political connections may have been involved in the case.
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