Survey on Poland

eu.gifThe recent issue from the Economist includes a survey of Poland written by the magazines East European correspondent Edward Lucas. As always when the Economist indulges on surveys the work seems very elaborate and informative. The survey also offers an audio interview with Edward Lucas and although most articles are walled for non-subscribers Edward has been kind enough to paste them on his blog. For me the survey is interesting because it deals with one of the so-called lynx economies (EU-8) which I have posted on before; here, here and here.

The survey consists of five articles + a leader which are linked below with teasers ...

Leading article

"The main story of the past 15 years is of stunning success and modernisation. Poland's booming service industries are unrecognisable compared with the exhausted rust-belt country of 1989. Exports are soaring. Economic growth, running at 5% or so, puts old Europe to shame. Even the emigration of a million-odd Poles has its upside. It is better to wash dishes in London than to be jobless at home. Many Poles abroad are learning new skills, languages and attitudes that will stand them in good stead when they return, as most do. Freedom of movement inside the EU means that, unlike previous generations, most Poles are not emigrating for ever."

Cheer Up

"Poland has become modern and prosperous on a scale that some still find surprising. Warsaw bristles with skyscrapers, and most of Poland is online. At the airport, three wireless internet networks compete for travellers' laptops. Across the road is a Marriott hotel, bustling with young, middle-class Poles in-between flights and business meetings, fiddling with their BlackBerries and chatting on their mobile phones."

The accidental government

"Polish political parties lack the deep roots and mass memberships of their western European counterparts. They are fluid coalitions with blurred profiles. Confusingly, the ex-communists are now the most ardent capitalists and the ex-dissidents often sound authoritarian. A new generation of bright, honest, ideas-driven politicians is coming along, but as yet few of them are in power."

Spy games

"IMAGINE that different factions in America's Federal Bureau of Investigation made a habit of bugging politicians and leaking material to journalists; that America's military intelligence agency was not under effective Pentagon control, and was engaged in large-scale business activities, both legal and illegal; and that former senior officers held influential positions in many of America's big companies and public organisations. Imagine, further, that several dozen officers currently serving in the organisation had been trained by Soviet military intelligence and were still in regular contact with their former trainers."

So much to do

"These numbers are encouraging, but they are not great. Many of Poland's neighbours are doing better. The Czech Republic notched up annual growth of 6.9% at the end of 2005. Lithuania, on which the Poles tend to look down, reached 8.8% and Estonia 11.1%. Admittedly small countries may find it easier to put their economies right, and Poland is getting richer quicker than other big post-communist countries such as Romania and Ukraine that have remained outside the EU. But then Poland is much closer to the rich part of Europe, and its workers are better educated. The fairest comparison is with the average for the eight post-communist countries that have joined the EU (see chart 3). Poland scores poorly here, as it does on a wider comparison with mostly much poorer countries across the region (see chart 4)."

A country to run from 

"TURN off the main road anywhere in Poland, drive for a bit, and you will find yourself in a different country. The roads become worse, sometimes abominably so. The one-storey log cabins and horse-drawn carts of Poland's rural past make an appearance. More commonly, you will see roofless concrete shells, the ruins of communist-era collective farms or tractor stations. Nearly 15m people, over a third of Poland's population, live in the countryside. Some 5m of them work on 2.5m farms. Life is dull and bleak. Mains sewerage is a rarity, as are reliable public services of any kind. There are few non-farming jobs. It is easy to see why people might want to leave."


"That raises two big questions: what is the effect on Poland of so many of its most enterprising people leaving? And what can the country do to tempt them back?"

Prickly to a fault 

Living in Poland 20 years ago, your correspondent often found himself accosted by total strangers intent on having angry conversations on past wrongs such as Yalta. That still happens, but only rarely. For younger Poles, particularly those who have spent time abroad, history is water under the bridge, and the dark and steamy world of Polish exceptionalism, particularly the quasi-mystical notion of national martyrdom, is a fading relic of an unhappier age.

Yet the deeper problem remains. Wally Olins, an expert on branding who has worked on Poland's image at home and abroad, says Polish prickliness stems from “a tremendous lack of self-confidence”. Historical misfortunes, he says, have left Poles mistrustful of their ability to run their own affairs. That complicates the great task of modernising the country, and particularly of creating decent jobs. Mr Olins thinks Poland should try to follow Spain, another Catholic country on the edge of Europe that emerged from totalitarian rule and worked hard to achieve modernity, stability and prosperity. That is a fine aim—and for the first time in Poland's modern history, there is no real reason why it should not succeed.

Enjoy reading!