Saturday, 8 October 2011

The gradual passing of old Poland

The suicide two months ago of former deputy premier Andrzej Lepper, leader of Samoobrona, a populist, potato-throwing political party that was once in a government coalition, caused me to reflect on how Poland is marching inexorably in the right direction.

In particular, a reportage in Gazeta Wyborcza about his last days, showed how unsustainable were the old ways of doing things in Poland. The article showed Lepper's business model - borrowing money from dubious sources to fund political campaigns, then paying back the lenders with political favours. It all went wrong when he and his party failed to win re-election in the 2007 parliamentary elections. In increasing desperation, Lepper went around seeking new ways to raise funds. He would say nice things about the Belarusian regime, and then trade his new-found (though illusory) influence in Minsk for introductions which he'd sell to Polish entrepreneurs keen to do business across the border.

Reading the article, I could feel a whiff of that dank staleness (stęchlizna) that once permeated Poland's elites, but is now definitely on the retreat. Poland is modernising; the EU, foreign direct investment, mass migration and the modern media are all helping re-shape the country into something more normal, more similar to the western Europe than to Russian Eurasia.

On Tuesday, I took part in an EU conference on innovation and governance organised as part of Poland's EU presidency by the Ministry of the Economy. There were speakers and participants from all over Europe. Looking at the Polish participants, I could see a clear division between the younger, mainly female ones, confidently - and knowledgeably - speaking to Dutch, French, British or German delegates, and the older ones, mainly male, sprouting non-ironic moustaches, wearing ill-fitting jackets, steering clear of foreigners to avoid betraying their inability to speak anything but Polish. And these men were typically the bosses of the women. In a few years time, when the old geezers retire, Poland's state bureaucracy should function a whole lot better.

Next week, I'll be making a brief presentation to the Polish Association of Rural Municipalities about the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The purpose - to make it clear to Pan Burmistrz that asking foreign-owned businesses for a 'cash contribution to village festival fund' in exchange for planning permission is just not on. Talking to a representative of a large retailer present in Poland, I was told that attitudes to this kind of thing are markedly more dodgy in rural parts than they are in Poland's cities and larger towns.

On balance, I feel increasingly optimistic about Poland's long-term future; economically, Poland has enough forward momentum to carry it through the expected global recession. Politically - it's cisza wyborcza ('election silence') , so I'm not allowed to agitate on behalf of any party - but I would say to those of my readers who can - get out and make your voice heard. Don't let the country go in the wrong direction because you couldn't be bothered to vote.

This time last year:
A glorious week

This time two years ago:
Trampled Underfoot - Jan III Sobieski and the Turks

This time three years ago:
Proto-park and ride, W-wa Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
Autumnal atmosphere


adthelad said...

doesn't really transpose well that 'election silence' - perhaps 'election eve curfew' or 'pre election day blackout' or pre election day silence? or 'pre poll election curfew':)

Also would not go so far as to agree with the main message of your blog - old habits die hard and based on recent discussions I've had the youngsters know not only the old ways but new ways of bending the rules.

adthelad said...

oh and if the behaviour of the main media is any indicator then Poland has a long way to go before it can be said to have left its old self behind.