Sunday, 16 November 2014

Poland - it works!

I flew into Okęcie on Friday, just before midnight. The WizzAir flight was on time. Outside the terminal, no shortage of taxis. The driver drove me to Jeziorki without having to ask me where it was, and charged me the normal rate (50zł - £9.40 for the 10km/6.2 mile journey).

I woke on Saturday morning to make the journey to Kraków, where I was addressing MBA alumni at the University of Economics. I booked and paid for my ticket online (60zł - £11.30 for the 293km/180 mile journey), printed the ticket off at home, and walked to W-wa Jeziorki to catch the suburban train to W-wa Zachodnia. The train from Radom came on time, I had 10 minutes to change platforms at Zachodnia. The train from Kraków arrived on time, and arrived in Kraków some 7 minutes late (amazing given the amount of work being carried out on the line).

In Kraków I had lunch at Los Compañeros, a Mexican restaurant where the crispy-shell beef tacos were so good, I had a second portion of three tacos. 6zł (94p) per taco (I had six in all!). Street signs from the station to the campus (470m) were also excellent - I didn't need to consult Google Maps on my smartofon to find it.

The event finished in good time for me to catch the 20:05 service back to Warsaw. I bought my ticket home at a ticket machine, paying with my debit card. The train left on time - and most importantly - arrived at W-wa Zachodnia on time, leaving me seven minutes to cross platforms and catch the last train to Radom via W-wa Jeziorki - which also arrived on time.

No stress, everything works. On Thursday morning, heading for Okęcie by bus, I bought my quarterly season ticket on board using by debit card - no problem whatsoever. Things are getting better, more convenient, more sophisticated.

The quality of the country you live in can best be judged by 'does it work'. Health service, roads, public transport, policy, education, state institutions. OK, there's still a lot of work to be done by us nation-builders here in Poland, but there is progress, things are going well given a) the starting point and b) other countries on the same journey.

Why am I writing this post? It is an answer to Russia Today, Sputnik and all the other Russian propaganda outlets that spew out non-stop lies, half-truths and disinformation. The main strategy, aimed at confusing the West is to use moral equivalence - you say Russia is corrupt - well, the West is corrupt too. You say Russia has crumbling infrastructure, vast inequality and an economy in disarray - well, it's just the same in the West. You say Russia is interfering in foreign countries - well, look at Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.

To counter this cobblers, false argumentation picked up at night classes at Moscow's Institute of Marxism-Leninism, this 'dialectical materialism*', I say - does Russia work? Are things better in everyday life in Russia? Shopping? Trips to the tax office? Encounters with traffic policemen? A feeling that the media is truthful? How punctual are the trains? Can you download Moscow bus timetables on your smartphone? Are Muscovites frustrated by trying to get around their city? Do they have a wealth of choice in reasonably-priced snack-bars and supermarkets?

Russia remains a land of subservience, of convenience bought at the price of freedom. The West has been built on the bedrock of freedom and property rights - I work hard, I save, I invest - the State, the vested interests, crooked politicians - can never take this away from me. Therefore I am motivated to work harder, to save, and to invest.

I remember reading back in the early 1990s about two Russian geologists, academics from the university, who decided to set up a small shop in an underground passage by a Metro station, selling the semi-precious stones they found while on field trips. After a while, the thriving little business attracted the attentions of the mafia. "If you don't give us a cut of your earnings, we will kill you." Reasonably, they considered that a mafia adds no value to their business, and they refused. They were killed. The message to would-be entrepreneurs was 'don't bother'. So there was - and is - comparatively little small and medium-sized business going on in Russia. If you are entrepreneurial, you'll make more money as a tax inspector or traffic policeman.

It is not so in Poland, nor in the West. These are the values that we should be clear about, despite the depressing blandishments of Russia Today insisting that things in Russia are no different to how they are in the West. They are fundamentally different. The West works better than Russia. It's just that simple.

Today Poland went to the polls to elect its local authorities around the country. Turnout higher than in the past (at least at 17:30); certainly when I went to vote, the school on ul. Sarabandy was busy. Tomorrow we will see whether Poles are happy with their gospodarz ('householder' - mayor, village elder etc) or not. Not just a reflection on local affairs, but also a reflection of how satisfied voters are with Premier Kopacz.

This time last year:
Bricktorian Birmingham

This time three years ago:
Fog hits Modlin Airport

This time four years ago:
The local elections and what they mean

This time five years ago:
Synchronicity of shape - Powiśle, Hanger Lane, Mel's Drive-In

This time six years ago:
The last of Jeziorki's noted landmark - the Rampa na kruszywa

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki spared high-density development thanks to airport zoning


Alexander said...

In the weekend of 23-24 March 2013 the Euro countries shut down the Cyprus financial system for everybody and money from uninsured deposits was confiscated by the EU the refinance the Cyprus debt.
The euforism the EU used fort his bankrobbery was called a bail in.
This was a nice work of democracy, changing the rules over the weekend by foreign governments without giving the ordinary people any change to choose an other option.
I think Putin regiem is behaving much better compared to the eurocrats, and the communists and socialists would have been so jealous.

The Polish goverment did not object. Their PM will be the unelected puppet president of the organisation. At least 300 million people who he claims to represent did not vote for him, or even heard about him. Putin was elected by his people….

Regards, Alexander

Bob said...

Good to see - it is easy to whine and complain and nice that you had a stream of successes. There has been significant progress - I certainly have seen it beginning with my first entry into Poland in 1990.

About Russia, Churchill said it best: "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

And, it is still that way today.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Alexander:

"Putin's regime behaving better than eurocrats". Sorry - I disagree vehemently. I've been to Brussels several times, I've met these people - whatever else one can say about them, they genuinely mean well; trying to juggle the interests of 28 nation states within an essentially democratic framework is not easy.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Bob - your testimony over more than two decades as an American in Poland is extremely valuable.

student SGH said...

Do you really need to turn over to Russia Today to find doom and gloom. PKP Intercity's ticket sale system is defunct, clogged up by too many passengers trying to by tickets for Pendolinos. Heads have rolled and PKP IC had to resort to hire an external IT firm to sort the problem out. Panstwowa Komisja Wyborcza will probably end up counting votes manually, because the IT system designed to serve the election conked out for good.

You misrepresent the story. Cyprus banking system was in early 2013 on the verge of collapse. The alternatives were to let banks drop like flies and launch deposit guarantees up to limits imposed by the EU (up to 100,000 Euro per depositor in a single bank) or to forfeit deposits in surplus over 100,000 Euro. The economic outcome for depositor is exactly the same, but a bigger disaster has been averted.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student SGH

Spendolino - the technology is quite unnecessary - it's like using a Ferrari to drive along ul. Hołubcowa. Fix the (rail)road first, then invest in the rolling stock... Good that there is accountability at PKP IC and PKW - those who took the wrong decisions or failed to take any decision are being seen to be punished - this is a good sign.

Thanks for explaining to Alexander in simple, non-inflammatory terms, why the Cyprus banking crisis was solved the way it was solved.

dr Marcin said...

@Student SGH, The third alternative :) was to nationalize of the Cyprus banking sector as it happened with the Island one. Khmmm..., khmmm... know that, the UE, diplomatic tensions, lobbies, groups of influence, clientelism, media and PR enforcement... the very important factors.
- Marcin Ph.D. of SGH

student SGH said...

If this technology is unnecessary, the decision to buy Pendolino trains instead of cheaper rolling stock put out by domestic producers, e.g. Newag or Pesa was flawed and falls into mismanagement.

@dr Marcin
let's examine the feasibility of the third alternative. In order to bail out the Cypriot banks it would take a huge equity injection. Whenever banks were nationalised in the recent years, governments were providers of capital, however in order to push money into the banking system they firstly needed to borrow it on financial markets. A quick search into google tells me around the time of the 2013 banking crisis Cyprus had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 111.7%. I doubt creditors of Cyprus would be eager to lend the distressed government even more and even if they were, soaring sovereign debt would plunge the country into an even more severe crisis. Another way out could have been to monetise the government's debt; however first the viability of such scenario would have been questionable, as Cyprus had adopted Euro and thus had lost flexibility in pursuing monetary policy, second debt monetisation results in inflation, whose burden would have been borne by the whole society, not only those who'd put more than 100,000 EUR to a single bank.

In short, it's not only about tensions, lobbies, etc. It's also about pure economics and common sense which in this particular got the upper hand.

- Bartek, magister SGH ;-)

AndrzejK said...

@student sgh

As far as I am aware neither PESA nor NEWAG produce high speed rolling stock.

Anonymous said...

In light of what's happening with the current elections, should the title of this article be modified? Discuss. Regards. Shropshire Lad.

student SGH said...

Michael's recent comment's (the technology is quite unnecessary purport, in simple words, was: 'we don't need high-speed rolling stock'. Therefore falling back or PESA or NEWAG could make sense (although you could learn from the wiretapped conversation of bygone minister Sienkiewicz with I don't remember who that Mr. Jakubas is out of Platforma's favour)

Michael Dembinski said...

Oh dear - I spoke too soon. The dangers of Complacency and Baysian Inference - if things are goin' jake one day, it doesn't mean they'll carry on doing so tomorrow.

PKP - I have an InterCity train to Poznań tomorrow morning at 5:50 from Centralna. Can I book a ticket from home today? No I can't.

PKW - Mr A. Lukashenka of Minsk writes "Where can I buy such an excellent system for counting votes?"

Still, as the Rabbi says, if today's verkakte, tomorrow will be better...

My main point holds, though. Poland works better than dictatorships to the east because of it has quickly adopted western-style democratic institutions.

student SGH said...

To quote the most atrocious murderer in the history of mankind: "It doesn't matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes". The quote dreadfully fits the commotion we are witnessing...

Michael, you'd better play tomorrow's first whiff of winter doesn't play havoc with railways. Forecasters warn of freezing rain in central Poland...

AndrzejK said...

The debacle with the voting system as well as the Pendolino booking system (lack of) just show:

1. Lack of professionalism by the relevant IT companies.
2 Leaving system development to the last minute.
3. The fact that those in charge have to double check the work of their subordinates and not trust them at all. Problem is that you might as well do the work yourself, only is this best use of management/ ministerial time.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Andrzej K and Student SGH:

High-speed rolling stock - on my trip to Poznań, the speed indicator in the carriage showed the top speed for the journey as not exceeding 159 km/h, about 98mph. This is on a line that has had a full upgrade. If all main lines in Poland could do that - wonderful. When the Spendolino comes into service, it will not be able to go faster than the limitations imposed on it by the rail infrastructure. Maybe after several more multi-year remonts when everything goes back to crawling speed.

AndrzejK said...

I am looking forward to the day when a TGV or equivalent train runs from Warsaw to London. This could/ should make the journey faster that flying and the attendant need to arrive early and then wait an hour at Heathrow for baggage to arrive.

Or maybe pigs might fly applies!