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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Newcomer Poland shuns EU polls
By Adam Easton
BBC correspondent in Warsaw

Judging by the long queues of traffic waiting to get into the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Sunday afternoon, many Poles had decided to spend the four-day long weekend on holiday.

And when they finally got home, most of them did not head down to the polling stations to vote in the European elections.

Altar boys in Warsaw
In Warsaw, more people turned up for Mass than at the voting stations
Poland, by far the biggest new member of the European Union, turned out to be one of the least enthusiastic about the polls.

Only around 20% of voters bothered to cast ballots, according to the latest voter turnout figures by the State Electoral Commission.

Turnout was highest in large cities like Warsaw, where campaign posters could be seen on almost any street and candidates peered down from giant billboards. But even there, many more people turned up for Mass than at the voting stations.

Driving along the main street of the small town of Serock, north of Warsaw, on Sunday afternoon I saw just one set of tattered campaign posters glued to a hoarding.

"It's a wake-up call," ran a headline in the quality broadsheet Rzeczpospolita on Monday morning.

"It's additional proof that people are increasingly distancing themselves from politics," the columnist said.

Lost faith

Poles have become increasingly sceptical about their politicians since the Solidarity trade union helped overthrow the communist authorities in 1989.

"The main reason (for the low turnout) is the general discontent with politicians. And the voters didn't think the elections really mattered to them. The European Parliament seems very remote," political analyst, Krzysztof Mularczyk, told the BBC.

Poland still views the EU as something that gives Poland instructions and money
Krzysztof Bobinski,
Civic Platform party MEP
Since 1989, successive governments have been hit by corruption scandals and with unemployment stubbornly refusing to come down from 20%, many Poles have lost faith in their elected representatives.

Another reason for the lack of interest is the lack of effort put into the campaign compared to that for the referendum to join the EU last year. More than 60% of Poles cast ballots in that vote, with 77% voting Yes.

Just a few weeks after joining the EU, it would be premature to say the majority of Poles had turned against it.

Poland is getting used to the idea of being in the club, Krzysztof Bobinski, an MEP candidate running for the election winners, the centre right Civic Platform party, told the BBC.

"Poland still views the EU as something that gives Poland instructions and money," he said. "They don't see themselves as taking part in European affairs and being co-deciders. So they didn't see the elections as exercising their democratic right on the European scale."

The mood of apathy and disillusionment was summed up by 33-year-old secretary Edyta Kurowska.

"It's very important to be part of Europe, but I'm tired of Polish politics because everything is bad," she said. "Politicians promise a lot but they don't do anything."

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