Views of Poland


Drivers eye view of a tram ride through Bytom.
Video by sabol72.

In the aftermath of the recent Wolsztyn – Poznan hiatus and the ongoing Przewozy Regionalne saga, I have received a number of comments in the style of the ‘Poles couldn’t run a cake stall in a vicarage fête.’ While sharing everyone’s frustration at recent events, I cannot help but feel that such comments are hardly fair. After all it was the Brits and and Yanks – not the Poles who decided that after WW II Poland should be assigned to the ‘Soviet sphere of influence’. After 5 years of German and Russian occupation, the country had 45 years of communism thrust down its throat by the Russians after which time some very unpleasant economic shock therapy was administered by the IMF. Some people argue that the medicine actually did more harm than the disease which it was meant to cure! Little wonder that today there is an Alice Through the Looking Glass air about how the country works. So here are some views which illustrate some of the problems facing contemporary Poland.

The first of these is a YouTube video by sabol72. It is a ‘drivers eye’ view of a tram ride through Bytom and across pl. Sikorskiego before it was rebuilt. It is I guess the way many British rail transport enthusiasts see Poland. They may notice the poor state of the track, the potholes in the roads and the shabby appearance of the shops, but the picture is charming and sympathetic.

Poland – the country which died from capitalism
Video by Thorsupremecommander

The second view, a video by Thorsupremecommander, was also shot in Bytom. It is a bitter protest at how the transition from tightly controlled state-run economy to Latin American style free enterprise has hit Poland. Bytom was once Poland’s Wolverhampton- a major industrial centre with steel works and collieries, factories manufacturing turbines and generators, textiles, building materials, pharmaceuticals, food products… . Now more than 90% the old factories have closed and unemployment running at around 14% has actually risen in recent years. Yet in those countries neighbouring Poland which embraced western values without undergoing ‘shock therapy’ many of the old plants still survive and unemployment is lower. The author blames Poland’s politicians for choosing a to create a ‘liberal economy’. While few would accept the author’s rose-tinted spectacle view of Poland’s past, a majority of Poles would accept his analysis of the present.

Many BTWT readers may wish to stop here. Both the embedded videos above show much which would be interest to rail transport enthusiasts. For those readers who would like to explore further Poland’s economy here are two videos with diametrically opposed views. What crisis? Boom time for Polish city by AFP shows Poland the way the Polish government and their economic advisers would like Poland to be perceived. Shot against the background of Manufactura, a giant shopping mall in Lodz, once Poland’s second largest city, the film tells the story how companies are moving their manufacturing plants to Poland. What the film does not mention is that, while prices in Poland have largely risen to the levels of Western Europe, average wages are at about one third of those in the UK. How many of these foreign-owned businesses will keep their Polish manufacturing facilities when Polish wages finally catch up with those in the West?

Last of all, Eastern Europe about to go Bust, Taking Western Europe with It takes a starkly pessimistic view. Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, says Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay or roll over $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region’s GDP. The traditional solution to such economic crises, according to Jen, has been war.

3 Responses to “Views of Poland”

  1. White Horse Pilgrim Says:

    You make two observations that resonate with me, after living almost ten years in Eastern Europe (albeit not Poland).

    First, the fragility of foreign manufacturing investment when local wage levels are disproportionately low compared to local cost of living. Disinvestment in favour or Ukraine, China, etc has already begun in some other Eastern European countries.

    Second, the high degree of indebtedness. It shocked me how many citizens tried to live a “western” lifestyle supported by borrowing, and by how the banks encouraged this by irresponsible advertising and reckless lending. (Not that the British, with their high average credit card debt, provide a good example.) This seemed like a time bomb.

    Perhaps a positive point is the degree of work ethic and entrepreneurial skill that some Poles have gained through working abroad? Transplanted back home, these attributes will help revitalise the country.

    There is also the matter of national identity. Along with Hungary, Poland seems to have an identity based upon pride and a measure of reality. (In contrast to the Balkans, where national identity seems based on arrogance and propaganda.)

    I agree that the shock therapy was a mistake based on economic naivety and a lack of concern for the well-being of the people. If the result was anything like the 1980s in Britain (probably it was worse) – well, I remember as a graduate taking a year to find even a badly paid job, the communities destroyed through mass unemployment, the families still around today where three generations are unemployed. But today try to recruit a skilled engineer with good experience and there are few British candidates – many of the applications come from Indians, South Africans, Eastern Europeans…..will our leaders ever learn, or even care?

  2. John Ball Says:

    Frankly, the all too smug West owes Poland a huge apology. A firmer attitude to Hitler in the 1930s and his overrunning Czechoslovakia, may have stopped him in his tracks. In Britain we too easily forget that Czechoslovakia and Poland were advanced industrial countries which sat in the Western camp. Then, after 1939, we were very glad of Polish people who fought on our side in the war only to let Poland down at Yalta, condemning her to over 40 years of Communism and Russian domination.

    As a Brit, I can only say sorry. Let us not compound the felony by a patronising attitude to Poland. Britain has had a soft ride since WW2, becoming a ‘service economy’ with heavy reliance on banking and other non-productive activity. Now, we see how useful the financial services industry has been – who will want to buy British financial ‘expertise’? Poland and other countries which still make things may well get the last laugh.

  3. Mike Winslow Says:

    Thank you for your thought provoking piece on Poland’s economic problems. At the time of the collapse of the old Soviet system, the IMF seemed to feel the need to punish Russia and it’s satellites. People who had saved, because there was not much in the way of consumer goods and all the other stuff we take for granted, saw their savings wiped out. Like the man from Morgan Stanley said, there must be a pay back sooner or later. Could it not have been possible to have had a gradual transition, was shock therapy the only solution?

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