Thursday, May 11, 2006

Survey of Poland: Chapter One

Cheer up

May 11th 2006
From The Economist print edition


Poles and outsiders alike are too gloomy. Despite the country's fractious politics, its prospects are bright and its problems solvable, writes Edward Lucas

WARSAW airport immediately strikes the visitor as oddly cramped for something that seems so modern. That is because travel, like so many other things in Poland, is booming. A new airport building opened in 1992, replacing the ghastly concrete slum built by the communist central planners who ran Poland until 1989. The new building was designed to handle an ambitious 3.5m passengers a year. Last year it handled 7m, and this summer a new $225m terminal will open, raising capacity to 10m. Other Polish airports too are expanding at a cracking pace. The one at Katowice had just 16 passengers in 1991. In 1995 it had 15,000 and last year 1m.

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.

But foreign travel is not a pastime only for Poland's rich. In another part of the airport, a large concrete barn known as the “Etudia” terminal is packed with Poles going to and from work abroad. Some are in suits; for Polish companies, low-cost travel is a boon, enabling them to do business abroad much more cheaply. But many of these passengers are the sort of people that you would not find in the Marriott. The older and more tired-looking ones are probably heading abroad for casual jobs in agriculture, construction or domestic service. At least such work brings in more money than similar drudgery at home.

The numbers working abroad are huge, even for a country with nearly 40m people. Since 2004, some 200,000 Poles have gone to Ireland, and probably over half a million to Britain. The main reason is that there are few jobs at home, especially for the young and the unskilled. General unemployment is running at 18% and youth unemployment at a shameful 40%, partly because of a demographic bulge, but also because Poland's hefty pension and social charges make its labour expensive. For a couple with two children, this tax “wedge” is 42%, the third-highest in the industrialised world. Only half the working-age population is active in the labour market (see chart 1).

Migration and unemployment are big topics in the Polish media, which are by far the best of any post-communist country. Three heavyweight dailies, a zingy tabloid and three serious colour newsweeklies are on sale at every news-stand. But some news-stands are better than others. The state-owned chain, Ruch, offers cluttered layout, dim lighting and languid, even snarling service. Its main competitor, Relay, is much more user-friendly. That is because its smiling staff are the owners and employees of tiny businesses that rent the premises from the owner of the brand and use family labour—teenage children, spouses and parents—to avoid the job-killing tax and social charges. The Polish business environment may be full of obstacles, but the country's entrepreneurs are amazingly good at circumventing them.

Travel from the airport is revealing too. Rich Poles are met in limos; slightly poorer ones collect their cars from the hotel car park; the unwary take overpriced taxis, having failed to find the regular sort on offer round the corner. The poorest travel in the draughty, slow, old, dirty and pickpocket-infested bus that grinds its way to the city centre.

The best bits of Poland are now indistinguishable from their counterparts anywhere else in the world; the worst bits, including public services such as transport, are egregiously bad. Politicians, so far, have done little to dent that. “The Polish emerging market works much better than the Polish emerging democracy,” says Grzegorz Kolodko, a former finance minister now based at one of Warsaw's top business schools.

As you inch into town, cast an eye on the concrete-panelled fences to right and left, and the vast tracts of former military land behind them. Those on the right have been sold off cheaply in murky circumstances under past governments: a good example of how bad public administration in the past has cheated the taxpayer, disillusioned voters and perhaps enriched crooks. On the left, behind a display of decaying tanks and rusty fighter planes, is the huge 60-hectare Zwirki site, centred on a shabby 1970s concrete conference building where the Warsaw Pact's generals once deliberated. That would be worth perhaps $100m if the government were to sell it simply as land. But the defence ministry is looking for a different, more lucrative sort of deal in which it would share in the profits from any development. That sort of deal would have been unthinkable when Poland's military property agency was run by bureaucrats. But now the agency is headed by a forceful retired Anglo-Polish investment banker, Maciej Olex-Szczytowski, who has moved to Warsaw to work, pro bono, for the new government, to help it live up to its motto: “Cheap and efficient”.

“European quality, Polish prices, Czech VAT.” The sign captures Polish capitalism in a nutshell. Marek Glinkowski's doors and windows business is based in Poland, but as close to its customers in the Czech Republic as is physically possible, in the last building before the bridge over the river Olza that links the Polish city of Cieszyn with its suburb of Tesin in the Czech Republic. Mr Glinkowski's firm epitomises the way Polish businesses are now attacking the newly opened markets of neighbouring countries—which is one reason for the leap in Poland's exports from $61 billion in 2003 to $95 billion last year.

Until Poland joined the European Union in May 2004, Cieszyn, known in Habsburg days as “Little Vienna”, was a pretty but rather depressed town on Poland's periphery, isolated from the rest of the country by bad roads and from the rest of Europe by the border. Getting goods across the bridge was difficult because of complicated paperwork and unpredictable queues. Mr Glinkowski says his business, founded in August 2004, simply would not have been possible before entry into the EU. Thanks to Poland's big domestic market, doors and windows there are 10-15% cheaper than in the neighbouring Czech Republic. Mr Glinkowski now has a sales force of four based in the Czech Republic, and 12 Polish craftsmen who drive over the border to install the windows.

For small firms such as Mr Glinkowski's, Poland's entry into the EU has transformed the business environment. Instead of being isolated behind customs barriers, they can sell their wares anywhere. Mr Glinkowski's biggest problem now is Poland's own bureaucracy, particularly as regards taxes. The tax rates are not much higher than those of its post-communist neighbours, but their administration is hugely more bureaucratic. Whereas the Czech tax authorities deal with his value-added tax in just 60 days, in Poland getting VAT refunded on exports takes around six months. And tax is only one of myriad administrative problems.

These are not just the usual entrepreneur's whinges. In the World Bank's latest comparison of the business environment in different countries, Poland comes 54th, behind such places as Kuwait, Tonga and Armenia. It is beaten by all its post-communist competitors in central Europe, except stodgy Slovenia. The cost of setting up a firm, for example, equals 22% of GDP per person, against an average of 13% in the post-communist region as a whole. In Poland an everyday business project—building a warehouse—involves 25 bureaucratic procedures and takes 322 days, compared with 21 procedures taking 252 days elsewhere in the region (and a lightning 70 days in America).

A half-hour drive to the north it is the same story, of success and frustration, but on a larger scale. Mokate, a privately held company with 1,000 employees and sales of 300m zloty, is Poland's best-known producer of prepared drinks. Some are strikingly, even piratically, similar to international brands of coffee; others are inventive to the point of oddness. The main product line is foil-packed cappuccino powder (flavours include vanilla and almond). Then there are teabags, regular, flavoured and even one spiked with a patented form of powdered alcohol to produce a mulled wine of sorts. Post-communist consumers are lively experimenters.

Mokate is a third-generation family firm. When its pre-war restaurants and shops were nationalised under communism, the Mokrysz family started up a private building-supplies firm, which survived even though the company claims it suffered from “persecution”. Certainly Mokate has done remarkably well since 1990, increasing its sales more than fiftyfold in 15 years after moving from cement in sacks to coffee-creamer in sachets. EU membership has greatly boosted its exports and the firm now sells to 55 countries.

Whereas Mr Glinkowski's success is based on a low-cost, low-tech product, Mokate's edge is in high technology and know-how. Its ultra-modern powder tower rises like a skyscraper over a gleaming white R&D facility, looking slightly out of place in the impoverished countryside around it, where a decrepit coal mine, now closed, used to be the main employer. Food scientists produce a stream of new consumer products.

But even though the ingredients of the two firms' success are different, Mokate's spokesman, Jerzy Chrystowski, is just as frustrated with the government as is Mr Glinkowski. “We just want the rules to stay the same,” he moans. “They are always changing: VAT, corporation tax, excise duty. One day all our vendors, even tiny roadside stalls, had to buy cash registers. Now they are told it's not necessary after all. And everything is overformalised and slow. The procedures are too rigid.”

That is the big challenge facing Poland, and the central subject of this survey. The country's private sector is increasingly able to compete with the rest of the world, whereas the public sector, wasteful, expensive and bloody-minded, is not. That is one reason why up to a million Poles are now working abroad. But this migration, symptomatic of Poland's problems, also holds the key to their solution.


beatroot said...

The foundations of the Polush economy are good, and the Economist survey shows this.

But do not underestimate the link between the nature of the political governments and how Poles feel about themselves.

the current bunch of populists/nationalists/racists are having a real negative effect on Poles view of their country.

Edward Lucas said...

I know that Relay is not the biggest private competitor to Ruch. But they do have an impressive business model, and are getting a lot of investment and backing from their French parent, Hachette.

On the media, I read Czech too, and I can't say that either Hospodarske Noviny or LN comes even close to Gazeta, Rzeczpospolita or Dziennik in the depth and scope of their coverage. Just count the number of foreign correspondents. The Polish magazines too are much bigger and better. It's no criticism of Czech journalists, just (I think) a consequence of the size of the market, nearly four times bigger.

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Jakub Chmielewski and otheres

Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a detailed response to my survey. It is flattering to get feedback--even when it is critical. You make a number of points and I hope you will forgive me if I don't write at such length.

First, I should like to point out that the survey is not primarily aimed at a Polish audience. We sell 1.1m copies a week, and many of our readers have little or no knowledge of Poland. It is therefore necessary to attract and maintain their interest, including using scenesetting and lively characterisations which may possibly seem a bit simplistic to specialist readers.

Secondly, a few words about myself. I studied Polish in 1986, speak it adequately, and have been visiting Poland regularly since then. I had five weeks to write the survey, which I spent mostly in Poland, a lot of it outside Warsaw. I certainly don't count myself as an academic expert, but there are fairly few journalists dealing with the CEE region who speak a number of the local languages and have been dealing with it for an extended period of time. So although I am sure that the survey is superficial in places, and contains errors of both fact and judgment, I would ask you to compare it not with, say a book by Norman Davies or Timothy Garton Ash, but with other journalistic efforts.

On to the specfic points. I apologise for the careless mispelling of Etiuda. It should be changed on the website shortly. I agree that other countries have barn-like minor airports for cheap flights and no disrepect for Poland was intended. However the aim was to point out that cheap flights have been a boon to Polish business, and as a way of illustrating the huge migration of the past two years.

To Kaganowski: I certainly didn't delete your first e-mail. I am a novice blogger, so errors are possible, but I was actually fast asleep at the time you posted. Your second and third postings are on the site

I was perhaps a bit unfair to the 175 but I think it is slow, it is not always a modern bus. I was on it recently and it was cold, and not very clean. Public transport in Poland is quite efficient, but is very clapped out and I think rather weakly managed. That was the point I was trying to make. Other countries have bad public transport too--but I was contrasting the dynamic and increasingly efficient private sector, with the public sector which is lagging behind. I don't think many people would argue that it is the other way round.

On the working class: I am not quite sure what you mean. Do you have specific examples?

On Relay. I apologise for this mistake. I think at the airport Relay is quite a big competitor--and it was certainly my impression that they are outselling Ruch there. But I was trying to paint an impressionistic picture of the airport, not give a serious analysis of the whole newspaper industry. But I apologise for the careless phrasing .

On the scope of my research: I think I visited a dozen companies, talked to 100-odd people, including government ministers, civil servants, busienss people, teachers (lots) pupils, academics, students, and so on. That is broadly comparable to what my colleagues do when they write surveys of other countries. I would ask you to compare the Poland survey with, say, the Italy survey we published recently and see if you can spot notable differences in the research carried out.

I am baffled that you think I am disputing Poland's investment advantages. The whole message of the survey is that, despite everything, the Polish economy is doing rather well. It is sad but true that FDI performance in past years has been nothing special, and lagged behind other CEE countries. But overall, the economic record is not bad at all. Hence the title "Cheer up".

On universities. I think that the good secondary-school education in Poland pleases foreign employers. A lot of universities have one or two good departments, But I have talked to a lot of employers who say that they are worried about the quality of degree-level education. This may be one reason why so many Poles want to study abroad.

On the chapter about the airport: please remember the point I made earlier. I am trying to tempt people in Hong Kong and Minnesota to devote ten minutes to reading about a country they may barely be able to find on a map. When I said limo, I don't mean the stretch kind (or I would have written "stretch limo") but the kind of Mercedes and BMW which I see regularly picking people up from Okecie.

On politics: I do think that this government differs sharply in character from previous ones. It has some similarities to AWS, but only some. One reason is that it excludes the PO people who were earlier in Unia etc. So the "Kaczynski" flavour is a lot stronger.

I think that the ex-commie govt was quite strong under Miller. But it was bad.

I think the coalition can now be quite fairly described as unwieldy. Anything that includes Giertych, Gilowska and Lepper as deputy PMs can hardly be otherwise. I confess I may have used some of the phraseology in articles elsewhere, both the Economist and European Voice. It is hard to be perpetually original...

I would not say that I mindlessly copy the PiS opponents' charges. Compared to any other foreign journalists, I think I have been remarkably fair-minded, perhaps too much so. But it is my job to make judgements and characterisations. I stick by righteous (praise) and unpredictable (criticism).

Olejnicak's criticism is indeed harsh, and I think wrong. But I am explaining at this point to the readers what the critics are saying. If you continue reading the article, you will see that having set up these criticisms, I knock a lot of them down as exaggerated. I point out specifically that Mr Balcerowicz provoked the row with the government (originally I described the throwing out of Mech, but it was too complicated for the general reader so we cut it)

I would contest that I am slobbering over the ex-commies. But it is a fact that they were technically very competent at foreign policy. Look at the way Belka nearly became sec gen of the OECD, and Kwasniewski was in the running at the UN. I don't like them but I have to concede they were good at this bit of their job.

Radek Sikorski specifically compared the pipeline to Molotov-Ribbentrop. Others have compared it to Rapallo, which is a legitimate but different analogy.

Your characterisation of the way in which the survey came about is so fanciful that it verges on the absurd. I argued very strongly that we should have a survey on Poland (after all, the CEE region is my job, and I travel to Poland every month for other stories). I spoke to only one or two PO representatives during the entire five weeks (although I have interviewed all the main figures in previous months). If I really thought that Polish objections and comments were worthless, I would hardly have bothered to take part in the debates on the Gazeta and Wprost websites (in Polish).

On the final chapter, which you refer to as Baedeker-like (which I take as a compliment, though you mean it as an insult, I suspect). The partition of Poland happened (the act) in the late 18th century. I can't see how you find that sentence so objectionable. I devote really quite a lot of room to trying to explain to the outside world why Poland has such a dreadful history, and I certainly aimed to do so in a respectful, not a sneering, way. I am sorry if that didn't come across.

On to the next post...

Again I would start by asking for some consideration of context. Most journalists are not great experts in the subjects they write about. Even on the countries they survey. It may be a pity, but it's true. My knowledge of Poland is certainly not great, but I knew a great deal more about the country than the authors of the previous two surveys (in 2000 and 1994 I think) , who spoke no Polish and in once case had never been there previously.

I make quite an effort not to turn the survey into a hymn of praise for Balcerowicz. You will note the phrase "fans say" and so forth when I describe him and his policies.

I think that the attention I give to institution-building would belie the charge that I am interested only in economics and selfish individualism.

Edward Lucas said...

I think short posts are generally better than long ones. If we are going to continue this debate, may I suggest that all future postings are no more than 200 words? (this one is longer because I am replying to the exhaustive postings above)

This is clearly not the place to debate the merits of capitalism versus communism. I was a student in the PRL. I think that post-communist Poland, for all its faults, is incomparably better. I know that there are Poles who think otherwise. I also know that Balcerowicz is an ex-communist and seen as a hero by some, and a villain by others. I make it clear in the survey that the range of opinions is wide, but I can't possibly, in 10 pages, do justice to all the possible arguments. The Economist is a free-market liberal-conservative paper and I think the readers understand that. If you want a different worldview, try

I did talk to a wide range of people for the survey. I would draw your attention to the bit relating to Nienadowka. I have also spent time in other depressed bits of the country, and talked to lots of people in Warsaw. However, my overall conclusion is that the situation though bad, is improving. I find it odd that some people leaving comments here are determined to portray me as a polonophobic outsider when the survey is rather pro-Polish and optimistic.

If LK thinks that Garton Ash and Norman Davies are not experts, I would ask whether he believes _any_ outsider has ever written well about Poland.

I think I detect a feeling that only Poles, or foreigners guided by Poles, should write about Poland. That might add expertise, but perhaps you would lose critical distance.

Edward Lucas said...

as a novice blogger, I'd appreciate advice about how to structure the site better. How should I index? (perhaps reply off-line, to spare my blushes)

To say that no outsider (in any language?) has written competently about Poland is quite a strong statement... Does that say something about Poland, or something about what Poles think about Poland?

Edward Lucas said...

A couple of specific points: Civic Platform's leaders have frequently described themselves as "Liberal-Conservative" in interviews with me and others. It seems to me quite a useful term, meaning more free-market, and more socially-liberal, than eg the Kaczynskis.

Many Economist journalists are not British. Or even American. If you find our worldview annoying, that's your privilege. We have 1.1m people who buy it every week.

More generally, I wonder if anyone really wants to assert that a) no native English speaker ever speaks fluent Polish. b) no foreigner can ever write anything sensible about Poland.

The second, in particular, means that is hard for me to continue the discussion! I am sure that nobody would really assert this, but to reassure me, can the other members of the discussion give an example of any foreigner, in any language, who has written well about Poland? Ever.

If not, I rest my case and suggest that we close the discussion.

May I ask all the contributors so far to try to write a 200-word summary of their objections and send it to, with a copy to me at

I will do everything I can to make sure that they are published, as part of the selection of letters we have received about the survey.

Edward Lucas said...

hmm. I assume you have sent this to
it will need real name, phone no etc so that the letters editor can check the identity of the writer

it is also rather too long, so may be edited

I have no difficulty in citing a dozen works by foreigners about Poland which I think are serious and praiseworthy. My question to you is, can you name even one? If not, then the probable hypothesis is that you are someone who cannot accept outsiders writing about your country, rather than all outsiders are invariably wrong.

Unknown said...

Although I'm just 22 and, contrary to my predecessors, not so well educated yet and probably my English isn't even half as good as theirs, I found the dispute very interesting. I know that it doesn't have a lot to do with the survey but just wanted to say what I learned during a year-long employment in UK.
Kagan wrote:
Anglosaxons, with very few exceptions, are not interested in other cultures, and even if they are interested, they, as a rule, misunderstand them, as they always asume, that their Germanic-Calvinist system of values is superior.
This argument may be well ilustrated by some questions from 30-something English (both men and women) that I faced during my employment eg "Are there any polar bears in Poland?"; "Do you have colour TV?"; "Do Poles have their own language?". These questions, in my point of view, clearly show that Brits (true - not well educated, but I got an impression that it is a general trend) are ignorant about any cultures/countries other than their own. This fact leads to conclusion that they lack some traits that maybe at least useful if not necessary for proper understanding and analysis of situation in Poland.
I also have to disagree with Mr. Lucas' view on Polish universities. In my opinion these institutions provide equally comprehensive education as their western equivalents. Although, it maybe true that they are not run as smoothly as it is done in western Europe. But that is just my impression as I do not have any experience in this matter.
But I think that striking difference in education begins earlier. I've worked in a hotel and most of the staff there haven't done any further education. Yet I was astonished to find out that out of 40 people working in my dept. only 2 agreed that 2 plus 2 times 2 is 6, not 8. Most of them said that Poland must have some different weird maths system because people in UK count from left to right... You might find this argument inappropriate or too infantile for this discussion but I just wanted to ilustrate the general ignorance of people in the UK.
But generally I have to say that I found your survey quite interesting. My fellow countrymen may say that I fail to notice all the mistakes because I am not really well educated, and surely their right. And I have to agree with them that parts of the articles look as if directly written by opposition. Yet I haven't found the survey biased. Still, a phrase "It takes time to become normal" was rather an unfortunate one to use.People that are not really into eastern Europe may think that everyone to the east of the Oder river is some kind of freak resembling this farmer in the photo.
Anyway, many thanks for your work Mr. Lucas as it seems to me that the foreign press, although I don't read much of it due to high prices, hardly ever elaborates on Poland. It's good to know that there are people who try to find out something more about it.
Maciej Meller

Edward Lucas said...

I think my fellow-countrymen's sense of humour may have got the better of them. Telling a foreigner that 2 x 2 is six and that his maths is weird because he counts from left to right sounds like a line from a British television comedy, and I fear that you have been the victim of this rather crude humour.

I still wonder about Polish exceptionalism here. Is Poland uniquely misunderstood, or are all westerner equally ignorant about all non-western countries, or are Brits particularly ignorant, or what?

Michael Dembinski said...

"Prickly Poles" is right. "What a scandal that Australians pronounce their highest peak 'Mount Koskee-uskoe'!" says the same Pole who insists that the most northerly station on the Warsaw Metro is pronounced 'Plats Veelsonuh'. No sense of reciprocity.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Edward Lucas said:

I think my fellow-countrymen's sense of humour may have got the better of them. Telling a foreigner that 2 x 2 is six and that his maths is weird because he counts from left to right sounds like a line from a British television comedy, and I fear that you have been the victim of this rather crude humour.
Unfortunately, I cannot agree. I also thought I was a joke. But as the argument intensified I learned that English not only did not realise that they were wrong, but what's more they were far from accepting the right solution. Finally, my arguments were backed by a guy from senior management, who got tricked as well but happened to know a bit more about maths. The rest that opposed me earlier said: 'We don't study maths. We didn't go to uni, you see.' Here it got proper funny, because I thought you can't go through whole college or any other school at similar level, than pass you GCSE or A levels, without knowing at least some maths. As far as I know maths is a core subject, isn't it? And I think that the sequence of operations (or whatever it is called in English) in maths is crucial knowledge needed to do any maths at all. Do I have to mention that these people were dealing with cash...
I don't want to criticise English education system as I don't know much about it. But I'm getting at is that these people refused to accept my explanation just because I was Polish, not English. And that's in my opinion a symptom of some ignorance... Maybe I'm just nit-picking :)
Cconcerning bad education and its consequences: have a look at and put 'next country to invade' in the searchfield. Play the first from the top. :]

I still wonder about Polish exceptionalism here.
Some older generations think of Poland in these terms, I think. Younger people (at least most of them) don't. Prejudice towards toher nations is also declines because schools provide comprehensive education and there are many cross-cultural happenings taking place. But the truth is that more is done to explain western cultures to Poles than it is to explain eastern cultures to the West. Thus, books on eastern Europe written by westerners are not of very high quality.
Maciej Meller

Michael Dembinski said...

To Kagan:

I've read your posts and find them symptomatic. They remind me of a train journey to Kielce when I was in a compartment with seven people and a political debate broke out. After listening for half an hour or so I said "I now know what you don't want. But what do you actually want? I did not hear any clear views from anyone. So...

Kagan - what are your policies on:
Interest rates - should they be higher or lower?
Zloty - is it too high or too low compared to the euro or dollar?
Taxes - Too high or too low? If too high, where would you cut and how would you plug the budget deficit?
Foreign investment - would you encourage or discourage? If encourage, which sectors would you wish to attract to Poland? If discourage, what alternative forms of employment would you create for Poles?
Free enterprise Do you believe the state has any business to run banks, airlines, hotels, factories etc? If so, do you think it can do so more effectively than the private sector? Do you think that running a small business in Poland should be made easier in terms of the bureaucratic burdens? Do you think more people should be encouraged to start their own businesses? If so how?

I'd be interested to hear your views on the above!

richardlith said...

I would offer this advice to the bloggers here.
1) Lucas' has written a piece of journalism, which never claims to be authoritative.
2) Secondly, he has written a survey, which by definition is not a detailed analysis, but a general impession.
3)Polish exceptionalism is not limited to Poland. In my experience, the layman or woman in every country cannot see how an outsider can understand them (see all the articiles in the British press of "don't the French/Germans thing stange things about us."
4) one of the good things to come out of the recent Polsih emigration to the UK is that they are losing their preconceived ideas that the British are gentlemen, educated, polite, etc. Some British are very well educated, while others are shockingly illiterate. Any Polish scandal has an equivalent in the UK, I promise you.
4) To those who claim that the Austalian can't pronounce Mt Koszciusko properly, Would they please stop spelling London Londyn and Edinburgh Edynburg. Mind yoy, that means that English would have to lose Warsaw and write Warszawa.

Unknown said...

richardlith said... of the good things to come out of the recent Polsih emigration to the UK is that they are losing their preconceived ideas...
Agree on that one. Before I went to the UK I thought Brits are really reserved, mannered and just love Americans. It all turned out to be false as I met people who were friendly, fun-loving, having insane ideas, not really caring about good manners (though I've served serving some really posh couples as well) and constantly telling rude jokes about Americans.

To flyingoko
If you allow, I'll try to answer some questions as well, living in Poland and being interested in such matters a bit. My knowledge of economics is far from being good or even fair but I'd like to write what sounds reasonable to me.
Interest rates
As my parents used to work in banking sector, dealing with loans, I have some idea of how things look. from the point of common man. The dispute over banks has more to do with how it used to be and how it is now, I think. At the beginnings fo '90s there were 9 so called 'children of NBP' state-owned banks which were prospering very well and' if I think right' thus provided good income. Than in some not really clear circumstances they were privatised. The effects of this decisions were: the state lost the majority shares in all these enterprises, lost both income and control. Later on banks became subsidiaries of large foreign companies. It made them more competetive but it cost many, many people their jobs. That's why not everyone think that Mr. Balcerowicz was such a blessing to Polish economy... And today's interest rates seem to me a bit inadequte (too high that is) if polish inflation rate is much, much lower.
This depends on what people do. Since I went to England to earn my living and came back I would like Zloty to be weeker in order to get more from earned quid.
A good example of good tax policy seem to be our neighbours such as Czech Republic and Slovakia. Some call them a 'tax paradise'. Their governments lowered the tax rates and simplified the whole system and it proved the right thing to do as new companies have been started, some foreign have moved in and the general rate of taxpayers has risen. The state hasn't actually lost their tax income, it is reported to have had risen.
Foreign investment
That's of course a really complicated matter but as far as I can rely on my observation few things can be said. Foreign investment usually doesn't bring any employment. The example of UniCredito - since they gained control of two very large banks, many of their eomployees were made redundant. But an example of LGE investment in LCD factory or some of automotive industry is clearly a positive one.
Free enterprise
As I mentioned before. State-owned companies proved that they can do at least as well as private ones, employing more people at the same time. Starting a company in Poland is difficult but lately there were some improvements (eg lowering contributions the employer has to pay for each person employed) made in this matters. Reportedly there are some more changes to be made to limit red tape and encourage small business.
Hope it makes any sense. :)
Maciej Meller

Michael Dembinski said...

Interesting responses. If I may venture an observation about Poles (being 100% genetically Polish but UK born)...

Poles have very close ties at family level, and very strong association with the country at the national level, but in between there's a complete and utter lack of trust (mainly as a result of deliberate communist policies to unglue the fabric of society.

Neighbour mistrusts neighbour, driver is inconsiderate of fellow road user, employer mistrusts employee, employee mistrusts employer, tax payer mistrusts tax office, government mistrusts citizen.

Everyone's got a bad word for everyone else. And so the need for ukladziki which gives rise to uklady. 'Do business with those you can trust' - family and friends.

Growing up in socialist Britain under Harold 'Moscow' Wilson and Edward 'Three Day Week' Heath, the appearance of Margaret Thatcher on the scene was a shock. 25 years on, Brits do not question the idea that it's free enterprise that drives the economy not government.

Government more efficient than the private sector at running airlines? Look at BA before and after privatisation. Look at Greek carrier Olympic. A bankrupt joke. Or Alitalia. Hotels - I well recall the shoddy service in the Orbis chain in the early 1990s - unrecognisably better today.

State attempts at running businesses (anyone remember Sealink or British Leyland) were dismal failures in the UK. In Poland, where the temptation to have install political place-men into state enterprises runs high, the chances that they will deliver value to anyone other than political parties is low.

OK - England may not have more than a handful of working coalmines today, but GDP per capita is higher than in France, Germany or Italy, unemployment is around half of what it is in those countries (and a quarter of what it is in Poland) and economic growth is some 50% faster than in the Eurozone.

Markets work better when politicians don't dabble in them.

Edward Lucas said...

I would never defend the idea of the urbane English "dzentelman" as more than a sentimental cliche.

I am sorry that so many of my fellow-countrymen are rude and ignorant about other countries. Maybe our education system is even worse than in, eg America. It's hard to compare. I am sure that it is good for the Poles working in the UK to find that they are better-educated and more hard-working than their local counterparts. Perhaps that will mean they will lose any lingering neuroses about being Polish.

I strongly disagree with Kagan that fiscal policy is the route to full employment. Experience of other countries suggests that micro-economic measures work better (whether Danish or British model is a matter for debate)

I still find Kagan's approach illogical and somewhat insulting. Is he really saying that living on an island and having a protestant culture (supposedly) disqualifies any Brit from making any comment about Poland, ever?

I think it would be good to agree that any journalist from any country has at least the potential to write interestingly about any other country. For those who assert otherwise, the onus is on them to explain why someone from country X is uniquely disqualified from writing about country Y.

On Kagan's curiously neurotic point about langauge: Polish is not that difficult a language (compared to, say, Burmese). There are dozens of Brits in Warsaw who speak it fluently--just go to a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.

I strongly agree with flyingoko that private enterprise works better than state ownership and I find it baffling that anyone would assert the opposite given the experience of the past 30 years.

richardlith said...

I fear that my little comment about dzentlemeny has got us off the point a bit. This is meant to be about Poland, not the failings of the UK (about which there are million of blogs out there). One insight could be that many, many people from all over the world have knowledge of the UK and can make comments about it, whereas relatively few know anything about Poland. Therefore, when article's like Mr Lucas' are published, they create a stir among Poles.
Secondly, a major theme of the criticism is that a Briton like Lucas cannot possibly know anything about Poland, and therefore his criticism is invald. However, Britons are even more critical of their own country. For example, Lucas criticises the buses in Poland, but it was mild compared to what the media say about public transport in Britian.
Thirdly, it should not really be relevent where Lucas comes from. He is just a foreign journalist giving his impressions.

Michael Dembinski said...

Kagan says: "But empirical evidence tells us that private enterprise wastes limited resources on such illogical and irrational activities as marketing of unnecessary"

Mr Kagan - let the consumer decide what he wants or does not want to buy. Your statement reeks of years of communist indoctrination. Do you remember trying to buy toothpaste in PRL? If you were lucky enough to find any it would taste of chalk. Flavoured toothpaste is indeed illogical, irrational and a waste or resources.

The battle for the soul of Poland will be fought on demographic grounds. Each year some 400,000 young people reach voting age. Each year some 400,000 elderly Poles die.

Michael Dembinski said...

Mr Kagan - are you right wing or left wing? In the UK or US, you'd be suspected of being a raving Trotskyite. However, given your issue with Balcerowicz's PZPR past, I'd guess in Polish terms, you are right wing.

This is part of the problem with the way the Anglo-Saxon world reports Poland - it's impossible to tag its politics in a conventional Anglo-Saxon way. In recent weeks I've seen Samoobrona being defined as a 'left wing populist party' and a 'right wing populist party.

A better way of understanding Polish politics is along a two-axis grid, with a horizontal axis showing (left) tolerance of foreign ideas, a pro-EU stance, social liberalism and secularism. Showing (right) would be traditional values, nationalism, clericalism, and moralism.
A vertical axis would have (up) economic liberalism and (down) statism and redistributionism economics.

Mr Kagan - would you agree with this analysis?

Michael Dembinski said...

Here's the nub of the problem in Poland; the electorate feel comfortable with promises of some statism and redistribution - but who can they trust to do it?

The ding-dong politics of the past 15 years in which no ruling party has ever been re-elected is the result. Governments consisting of parties from either side of the pre-1989 fault line get into power by promising some form of socialism, failng to deliver, then getting roundly turfed out of office four years later.

Unemployment remains the highest in the EU, motorways remain unbuilt, and in each successive Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International, Poland slips further and further down the ranking.

All I'm asking for is for a Polish government to follow best practice in fiscal, social and business policy from exemplars such as Ireland, Finland, Estonia, Slovakia etc, countries that have dramatically turned themselves around in terms of jobs growth, GDP, inward investment and good governance.

At the end of the day its businesses - run by entrepreneurs - that create value, jobs and growth. NOT government. If you believe otherwise, please name countries that have are succeeding economically (low unemployment, high growth) that have avowed statist interventionist policies.

Michael Dembinski said...

A final comment from myself (if anyone wishes to continue please do so over at my blog site).

Poles love to complain. 'Narzekanie' is universal. Poles at bus stops complain habitually complain about the government, about corruption, lack of decent infrastructure, the capricious interpretations of the tax authorities - but heavens forfend some foreigner dares to say the same things - then Poles take umbrage. Taking umbrage (obrazalstwo) is another national characteristic of Poles. Taking it personally.

I'd just like to say, having heard Edward Lucas make an after dinner speech in almost faultless Polish - having studied in Krakow - that the Economist could not have hoped for a better informed, more astute observer of Poland to write the survey.

Michael Dembinski said...

Kagan said - "Practically every electorate is against privatisation". Explain then the popularity of the PKO BP privatisation. As a client of this bank, I must say it's a whole lot better today than it was several years ago when I moved to Poland! It's online banking facilities are superior to many UK banks.

Why do you insist that politicians (who as you say "as a rule, always lie") are better at running assets than professional managers?

Kagan said: Transparency International is not reliable.

It's the best measure there is. Poland's been in the CPI ranking since 1996 (when it was the cleanest post-communist country, and cleaner than three members of the EU 15). Since then, it's gone down in every single ranking - regardless of who's been in power. Take a look:

Kagan said: "GDP is only a measure of market activity, so has low correlation to material well being"

OK - then just look at unemployment.

Kagan said (replying to my challenged to name countries with avowed statist interventionist policiesthat have are succeeding economically).
- USA during the presidency of F.D.R. Germany 1933-1939 (later failed only because of aggression on Poland). China (PRC) in present day. Singapore. Enough?

Very poor examples. The USA's economy only really got going after Pearl Harbor. FDR never nationalised anything. Nazi Germany? Read this: . PRC? Slave labour with one kidney? No thanks. Singapore - decidely free enterprise model. (OK you can't chew gum without a doctor's prescription).

I'd give you Cuba, North Korea, Turmenistan and Zimbabwe as examples of state intervention gone wrong. Free market democracies don't go wrong. The voter and the consumer see to that.

Kagan said- "[incessent complaining]... is a better attitude than in, for example, Greece, where no one is able to see, that things are in a very bad shape. Better to be critical than accept rather bad situation as normal."

I don't disagree with you there. I just challenge Poles' monopoly to criticise negative aspects of Poland.

Kagan said
"I understand that you have some important reasons to write that commercial for E. L."

How symptomatic. Because I happen to share a world-view with E. L., I happen to be part of a larger conspiracy involving kick-backs. That's just pathetic.

Michael Dembinski said...

Kagan said: "privatisation of railways in UK by Thatcher"

She'd been out of office for four years before rail privatisation had begun.

It is symptomatic, that Thatcher was not sentenced for causing so many unnecessary deaths

Symptomatic of your lack of knowledge.

Kagan said: ...not politicians, who run state-owned enterprises, but professional managers.

And who hires these professional managers? The "lying politicians". Look at what happens after every Polish general election. One lot gets in, sacks the senior management running state enterprises for no other reason than because they were put into office by the outgoing government.

Kagan wrote TI is not a reliable source of information, as it is heavily biased against any form of non-western democracy and it does not notice high level of corruption in such countries as Australia or UK. Poland has many corrupted government officials, and this is obvious, but, in my opinion, it is less corrupt than, for example, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Germany, UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia

Kagan - if you think for ONE SECOND that Poland is less corrupt than New Zealand or the UK, I very much doubt if I can continuing arguing away with you. This is willful ignorance. What has happened in the UK over the past three years that can compare with Rywingate, Lapinski & Nauman at the Health Ministry, Kaczmarek at the Treasury, Peczak, Starachowice, the Lodz ambulance 'headhunters', the Lodzkie Voivodship Environmental fund, the Afera Paliwowa, the systematic match-rigging in Polish football, numerous documented cases of prosecutors and judges being bought off by criminals... I could go on... I challenge you to name as many PROVEN cases of corruption in the UK (or New Zealand ha ha!)

Kagan said: unemployment in Poland is very high, as a result of failed reforms commenced and mismanaged by Balcerowicz & Co.

... Being who? The governments of Mazowiecki, Bielecki, Olszewski, Pawlak, Suchocka, Oleksy, Cimoszewicz, Buzek, Miller, Belka and Marcinkiewicz. Premiers representing most shades of mainstream political thought. And still we have 18% unemployment and hardly any motorways.

Kagan - I can't say anything about Australia, having never been there, but the reason the US had with its low unemployment restricts its labour market is because opening it up to Latinos does not play well to blue collar voters. The UK opened its labour market fully to Poles instantly after accession. Compare that to statist France.

Kagan said: "Wikipedia is not an authoritative source in area of economics."

What is? Name me a good website that is authoritative in economics?

Many people with axes to grind dislike Wikipedia with its policy of NPOV (neutral point of view)

Kagan said: PRC is the most dynamically developing economy in the world. I understand that it is hard for you to accept it

I accept China's growth. I've talked to entrepreneurs who've been there are are doing business there; they say the government understands the importance of entrepreneurialism and low bureaucratic barriers to business. However, it's a one-party state and a long way from my definition of a free society.

- Singapore is a classic example of police, totalitarian state.

It might not be the freest democracy on earth, but it's the least corrupt place in Asia.

FlyingOko said: I'd give you Cuba, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Zimbabwe as examples of state intervention gone wrong. Free market democracies don't go wrong. The voter and the consumer see to that.
Kagan: North Korea it is a result of US aggression on Korea in the 1950s. Without that aggression, Stalinist would never be in power in N. Korea.

OK - I get where you're coming from.

...elections are simply falsified (as in case of the latest referendum in Montenegro)...

Kagan said- "[incessent complaining]... is a better attitude than in, for example, Greece, where no one is able to see, that things are in a very bad shape. Better to be critical than accept rather bad situation as normal."
FlyingOko said: I don't disagree with you there. I just challenge Poles' monopoly to criticise negative aspects of Poland.
K: OK. But the critic must be better informed than E.L.

Kagan said: "I understand that you have some important reasons to write that commercial for E. L."
FlyingOko said: How symptomatic. Because I happen to share a world-view with E. L., I happen to be part of a larger conspiracy involving kick-backs. That's just pathetic.
K: Not necessary. I just found it very strange that you wrote such a commercial for E.L. after my devastating critique of his “survey”, that’s all…

I don't rate your critique as 'devastating'. More as tendentious.

Kagan said: I was recently a visiting professor in several Polish universities

I've just spotted this. AAARRRGHHH! How on earth was this allowed to happen :-)

Edward Lucas said...

Just a few comments. I am grateful to flyingoko for his defence of me.

For a start, nobody has deleted his posts, and the reason that his letter has not been published is that no letters have been published about the survey. We normally wait a few weeks for them all to come in, and then the letters editor makes a selection.

I am baffled that Kagan thinks that the survey could be published as a travelogue but not as an "authoritative survey". That's just part and parcel of the way that Economist does things. He should really be grateful that they have a correspondent who speaks Polish at all--the last two surveys of Poland were written by journalists who had scarcely visited the country at all.
I feel that what he is really saying is that he doesn't like western journalism in general. In which case he should say so, and stop whinging about me and the Economist.

I think there is no point in arguing the merits of capitalism and communism. If anyone really thinks life was freer and more prosperous under the old system, then nothing I say is going to change their minds.

However, I would like to challenge the assertion that Britain is discriminating against Poles. This is a strong charge and requires elaboration. I would ask

1) Is Britain discriminating just against Poles, or against all "east Europeans"? If yes, then why? If not, then the second question is

2) Is Britain discriminating against east Europeans only or against all foreigners? If yes, then why? If no, then

3) Is Britain uniquely racist/xenophobic? If yes, then why? If not, then the whole charge falls apart.

I would argue that having opened the labour market to up to 1m workers from the CEE region is unlikely to be a sign of entrenched xenophobia.

I really find it hard to see how Kagan can sustain the idea that he has made a "devestating" critique of my survey. He has spotted some minor errors, but his main argument seems to be that as a Brit I cannot possibly speak Polish; that in fact no Brits speak Polish; that my cultural conditioning disqualifies me, like all other Brits. from making any worthwhile comment on the situation in Poland. And so on and so forth. That sounds to me suspiciously like my stereotypical prickly Pole. In fact I am beginning to wonder if Kagan really exists, or whether he is in fact one of my friends playing a clever practical joke on me. In which case, Robert (or whoever it is) well done. You really had me fooled.

Perhaps on that note we should lay this discussion to rest.

Michael Dembinski said...

Sorry Kagan old chap - you're quite welcome to lecture Poland's youth about the writings of Lem. Just don't stray onto economics! (Warsaw School of Economics? surely the Chief School of State Planning SGPiS)

Michael Dembinski said...

Edward - Kagan aka Lech Keller does exist.

The Internet's a wonderful thing. A few minute's research and I can see that the guy can be characterised as a 'awanturniczy grizipior', a regular visitor to forums and blogs, where he bangs on about Poles in Australia, the Australian government (type "Keller v Commonwealth" into Google) believers, economic liberals or homosexuals. Steeped in the bitterness that possesses his generation, born into Stalinism, he may appear be isolated and eccentric, but the baggage he carries is there on the shoulders of many Poles of his age.

Ignore him and he will eventually go away.

Edward Lucas said...

To summarise Kagan's argument:

1)Britain is a country founded on imperialism, theft and murder and has no right to criticise any other country.
2) No Brits speak Polish
3) No British commentator has ever said anything worthwhile about Poland
4) The Economist is a particularly poor example of a very poor genre of media
5) Communism was, overall, better than capitalism
6) Poland is less corrupt than most countries in Europe.
7) Poland's history since 1989 has been one of unrelieved disappointment, misrule, impoverishment and degradation.
8) because of 1), 2) and 3), nothing I say could possibly change his mind about 5), 6) and 7)

I hope that is fair.

I wonder if Kagan would do me the favour of trying to summarise my arguments.

One other thing: I have no idea who oko and richardlith are.

Edward Lucas said...

If the aim is mutual understanding rather than abuse, it is a good idea to try to make sure that you have completely understood your opponent's view and then to pose questions based on what both sides agree is being said. So I am going to try again to make sure I have understood Kagan's viewpoint.

1) [agreed] Britain's history is uniquely disgraceful and therefore Britons are uniquely disqualified from commenting on other countries

To which I have a question. Is any other country anywhere near as bad as Britain?

2) [agreed] No Brit has ever learnt good Polish. Question: does that mean that Brits are appalling linguists for all languages, or could a Brit learn Russian, say, or Japanese, or Greek, but just not Polish?.

3) [agreed] No British commentator has ever said anything worthwhile about Poland. My question: Has any foreigner ever said anything worthwhile about Poland?

4) [agreed] The Economist is very poor example of very poor genre. My question: are the people who read it stupid or deceived by our marketing?

5) Life in the PRL (whatever you call the political system then) was better than in post-1989 Poland. Is that a fair expression of your view? If so, would you say that of all the PRL period (including 1948-53, 1968-9?) or just the late Gierek period? Or post-Solidarity?

6) Poland is less corrupt than any other post-communist country except Slovenia, and less corrupt than UK and Germany (is that fair?)

7) Post-1989 Poland has been a huge swindle. (again, is that fair?)

8) Nothing I say can change your mind (you say that isn't fair, but I'd like to ask you what _would_ change your mind?)

9) If you think I am too arrogant to comment on Polish affairs, would that change if you found out that I was not in fact British? IE is it the nature of my comments, or my background, that determine the arrogance

10) If you won't believe me when I say that I don't know who the other two posters are, what is the point of my saying anything? You just won't believe me on that too. If you don't believe anything I say, why are you bothering to argue with me?

11) To make sure that you have understood me properly, why not try to summarise my arguments. Either you are right, in which case you can then proceed to attack me on an agreed basis. Or you will be wrong, in which case you will be corrected and the argument will then be more productive. Do you agree that it is at least in principle possible that you have at least fully understood me?

Edward Lucas

Edward Lucas said...

I cannot see how to take this discussion forwards. If anyone else is still reading, I would be glad to hear their views.

Michael Dembinski said...

I'm still reading, Edward, if only because Kagan's world view is one shared by all too many post-communist citizens of his age group. Confused what to think of their past, unable to place themselves into a new post-cold war reality, carping, critical, over-sensitive, unable to move on.

This confused world view multiplied by a few million(including my aunt, a former member of the PZPR who's outlook is 95% the same as Kagan's) reflects the odd politics we have here in Poland.

I'm delighted to say that Poles in their early 30s or younger have a more positive attitude. They realise that sitting in a bath of dirty stale water that's going lukewarm is not as life-enhancing as a hot shower.

Individual responsibility - not devolved upward to Stalin, Gomulka, Kim Jong-Il or anyone else.

What's confusing about Kagan's world view (if it were unique I'd have walked away from this discussion long ago) is that when it comes to matters spiritual, ( he's entirely happy to ditch the vicar. But on economics, he still believes in some lay god that can steer the ship of state towards the greater good of all men better than can the free market.

Flying Oko - NOT an alter ego! I AM 100% ethnically Polish, no Anglo Saxon, Jewish blood. So there.

Edward Lucas said...

Hmm. I tried to characterise Kagan's views fairly. He has (in my view) exaggerated and caricatured mine. Kagan, do you want to try again? Or do you prefer to exchange insults?

For example, my view on 1) would be
"Britain has some shameful and some glorious bits in its history. Most, if not all, countries do. This feeling of collective responsibility, affection or whatever may affect government policy (ie, in Britain's case towards Ireland, or in Germany's towards Israel). But this should not affect the "right" of an individual journalist to analyse, praise or criticise.

Until we both agree what the respective positions being advocated are, we can't have a sensible discussion.

I have no idea what Kagan did in the PRL time or in emigration thereafter and I don't think it is necessarily relevant to the discussion.

Any advice about how to index or design this site is welcome

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

A whole new issue of The Economist could be made up of these comments although, it's doubtful if anyone would be interested... ;)
This discussion got really heavy now, so in order to avoid insulting and offending anyone I'll just comment on few points.

Unfortunately the more arguments are given by Kagan the more I think that they are out of place. You claim that in Mr. Lucas' views Britain's history is a most glorious one. British people have not killed a single native in Africa or Asia, and they are simply the best, the most honourable and the most ethical people in the whole world so they have a God-given right to criticize any other country or nation (with an obvious exception of Israel and the Jews). Thus, you hint that in your opinion Poland is a God's chosen place/country and is justified in doing the same. I have to agree with Mr. Lucas that each country has some inglorious moments in its history but that actually doesn't give us the right to judge the doings of all other countries just because our history is full of defeat and suffering. Take England's expansion. You say that exploiting colonies was something completely wrong. It wasn't a righteous thing to do but are you so sure that Poland wouldn't do the same if it had a chance. Again, the fact that our history wasn't full of success doesn't mean that our moral standards are very high.

And there is a strong correlation between material wealth per capita and number of foreigners exploited and killed in the past by a given country. Look at the past again. Polish history has seen our country to be the biggest country in eastern Europe. And as you know it wasn't full of praise from other nations which were just delighted to have polish rule over them. Concerning Iraq I wouldn't say that there are so many differences between the Poles and Brits. In both countries (correct me if I'm wrong) the public opinion condemned the invasion. And in both countries governments pretended not to notice it. But what's different between countries in coalition is the fact that Poland gained nothing. American appreciation of Polish military help in Iraq is rather disputaple. Furthermore, Poland lost soldiers even though there is no war. Angered Iraqis and weakened its relationships with some countries, not only Arabian ones. It's constantly loosing a lot of money on its troops in Iraq and haven't gained any of expected econimic benefits. Taking all these arguments into account it turns out that we're even worse than the British or Americans as we invaded another country having no vested interest in that.

Again – fallacy of “no middle”, i.e. you must be either a liberal, or Stalinist, because there are no other alternatives.
Leaving the political option on the side, you seem to me to be a person of such attitude. It seems that you don't think anything positive of the western countries. I may not agree with all of Mr. Lucas' arguments or views but what's the point in creating an axis of evil with most of other countries on it?
...who has promised Poland military assistance in 1939 but failed to provide it and who gave Poland to the Soviets in Yalt
Sometimes, not always, things of the past must stay such. Is there any sense in for example the upcoming trial of people who are responsible for introducing the martial law in Poland ? Will imprisonment of some grandpas make up for wrong done? And as far as I'm being taught at my uni British wanted the Soviet border on Curzon's line, even in Yalta. Before one says that we were given to Soviets one has to consider the fact that by the end of the war the USSR was the most powerful (thanks to american help...) country in Europe, if not in the whole world, and given that British, which by the way also came out of the war much weakened, were always political pragmatists only a fool would hope that they would risk their necks for Poland. I can also imagine that westeners didn't realise what was really coming down to eastern Europe. I think that they truly believed that even though Poland would be much affected by Soviet policy in the region it would remain mostly independed and with more democratic society and economy, as it happend in Finland. Now, is it really the UK to be blamed or the USSR which was constantly misleading western democracies and planned to conquer whole Europe...
Maciej Meller

richardlith said...

Don't any of you have jobs? We can't spend all day posting on blogs.

To Kagan, in the interest of balance, you are aware, I hope, that there are counrties in Europe that regard Poland as an imperial power at various stages of history? The white eagle isn't all that white.

Michael Dembinski said...

I can't resist arguing with Kagan because it's a great testing ground for the types of arguments one always gets into with Poles of a certain age. Arguments that are frightfully confused compared to the shining purity and intellectual rigour of Washington Consensus neoliberalism (there Kagan - I said the 'L' word).

Prior to 1989, Kagan was both pro- and anti-communist at the same time. He despises Balcerowicz for his membership of the PZPR, yet believes that life in the PRL was better than it is in Poland today.

He's against undemocratic phenomena in the USA, UK or Australia, but has praise for authoritarian regimes in Asia.

He is a libertarian and has no problem with people being "naked and making love in public" (which does not "constitute a danger for society"), as long as the participants in such activities are not of the same sex.

In the west his statist and anti-clerical views would put him firmly into the left-wing camp. Yet his homophobia would exclude from any well-meaning group of liberals (in the orginal 'bleeding heart') sense of the word.

The UK is uniquely xenophobic? Is not Moscow the African student-stabbing capital of the world?

And talking of xenophonia - my ethnicity - Kagan has a point here. I don't know anything about my family tree before the 1880s, I do know that my four grandparents were Poles, all four born as subjects of the Tsar.

Some substantive issues:
Kagan said In West Germany almost every finance minister finishes in prison Please list W. Germany's post-war finance ministers, noting with an asterisk which ones were incarcerated on leaving office.

British motor industry: while the great British names have gone, the industry still provides tens of thousands of jobs directly at manufacturers such as Nissan, Toyota, Honda, General Motors and Ford. Cars are the UK's biggest export to Poland!

I love this bit of plaintive wishful thinking... "Why am I not in your place if I am effortlessly able to produce survey by far more insightful than yours?" Why indeed. I laughed out loud as I read the question! Love it!

Well, Kagan, I'd love to read it! How many, though, would pay for such 'wypociny'? A infinitely tiny handful of lefty homophobes in the west plus a somewhat larger number of the 50+ age group struggling to cope with post-communist transformation. Who'd not pay 18 zlotys. So the answer to Kagan's 'why' is economics.

I find this entire exercise extremely interesting, as Kagan is so symptomatic of this group. His excellent English and his dogged persistence makes the dialogue worth while.

I am away for two days on business, busily exploiting the proletariat and peasants by providing them with the opportunity to live and work in the UK. I wonder how many brainwashed English speaking Polish under-30s will be interested...?

Back Thursday...

richardlith said...

I would venture that Kagan is in fact more Australian than Polish -- he never tires of telling us of his studies down under. Perhaps his rambling here is revenge against the English and Edward Lucas for England winning the Ashes last year. Perhaps he feels hard done by that Michael Kasprowicz only played one test for the Aussies.

Edward Lucas said...

I would like to note that this whole thing has been a pilot for The Economist. We have never in the past offered readers a chance to comment interactively about published articles.

I do apologise if the design and structure of the site are inconvenient or clumsy. It is only a first attempt and I am sure future efforts will be better designed.

I'd like to thank everyone for their patience.

My main conclusion is that when and if we roll this out as a general feature of the Economist's online offering, we will need a means of limiting contributions to 200 words or thereabouts. The single most tiresome feature of the discussion has been the extraordinarily wordy and rambling nature of some of the comments.

I am also very surprised that some people, chiefly Kagan, who clearly loathe the Economist and everything it stands for, are willing to devote so much time and effort to denouncing it, and me. I suppose it's a compliment.

On that note, I would suggest that participants make one final comment, and we lay the discussion to rest. As one participant put it nicely, we all have jobs and families to go to.

I will be most grateful for comments made in response to other articles on this site.

Many thanks to everyone (particularly Kagan, if he really exists, for articulating a viewpoint which is rarely heard, and to my anonymous defenders)


Unknown said...

Actually, I don't have a job nor family ;) Sure, I have to study from time to time :)
I would like my final post to stay focused to the situation at home. Mr. Lucas I 'd like to recommend to you watching a program broadcasted on TVP1 (Polish Public TV Channel No 1, as you surely know) named 'A case for a journalist/reporter', if you get a chance. It shows many amazing cases of injustice that are taking place nowadays in Poland, legally I must add. Today's episode was a really good one as it concerned the situation of the Bar in Poland... Unfortunately it showed that it's really bad and that the current government may fail to change it due to strong connections in this particular enviroment. I think that a number of similar cases is to blame for polish pessimism.
PS: I did comment on your other articles but nobody has noticed and no such intense discussion as here has taken place :)
Maciej Meller

richardlith said...

It was all a ruse for the economist!!! Looking back, it is a bit strange that EL should bother to read and reply to everything. It's all been done on company time!! Seriously, the problem of these interactive blogs is that a small group of people take it over, putting off others who may have someting to contribute . Certainly, posts should have a maximum length. They also need to be policed and moderated, to stop some users dominating and to halt the decline into personal attacks, like the online forum of a certain national newspaper in a CEE country EL covers. On the other hand, the BBC website is overmoderated, as it just becomes a list of comments without any debate.

Edward Lucas said...

it's not a RUSE! And my wife has been complaining incessantly that I spend so much home time on my "blog thing"

All other comments about how things could be better arranged in future would be welcome.

On the whole I would put up with a lot of abuse to keep it lively.

I am hoping to get Kagan's letter published this week.

I will certainly look out for that television programme next time I am in Poland.


Edward Lucas said...

I just heard from the letters editor. He plans to publish a bunch of letters about the Poland survey next week. Anyone who would like to be considered for publication should write (the shorter the better) to

with a copy to me (

I certainly didn't intend to confuse pricklypole with kagan and I apologise if I gave that impression. I am glad that pricklypole doesn't share what seem to me to be indefensible generalisations about the Brits. I can agree that Brits are remarkably talentless linguists, but I only have to produce one or two who speak Russian or Polish perfectly (perhaps because they lived there for years, or married a local, or studied hard, or are geniuses) and Kagan's argument is exploded. In my experience, arguments that include the words "never" and "always" are pretty fragile.

I doubt that it makes any sense to create a hierarchy of countries where the media is "allowed" to comment on others (ie Germans can write about French, but not about Israelis. Arabs can write about Iranians but not Africans. Or whatever). Surely it is better for everyone to be treated as an individual, and have their views judged on their rightness or wrongness, rather than because of some disgusting and indefensible thing done in Tasmania, Auschwitz or wherever.

But I am still puzzled about what exactly pricklypole found so dreadfully inaccurate about my survey. He is determined to pigeonhole me as a superficial foreigner who jets in for the weekend, talks only to a few people in Platforma, who believes that Balcerowicz is a hero and that Polish history is a joke. I agree that a lot of foreign journalists could be labelled like that. But it seems to me that the survey goes out of its way to do the exact opposite.

Edward Lucas said...

I have a suggestion for Kagan. I will book a table at one of the most expensive restaurants in Warsaw. I will bring a bunch of British citizens who I think speak excellent, fluent, Polish. Most of them studied slavic languages at university, some married Poles, most have lived in Warsaw for ten years or more. Kagan will bring a neutral judge. We will have dinner. The judge will adjudicate. If he agrees that the guests do speak excellent, fluent Polish, then Kagan will pay (around $2,000). If not, I will


(I should add that I don't count myself in this category of excellent Polish speaker: I just insist that they exist)

Edward Lucas said...

kagan's piece seems to have been posted twice in identical form, so I have deleted the first one

I will first recruit my panel of Polish-speakers and then see about the location and judges


Edward Lucas said...

richardlith: I am going to be in Vilnius this coming week and would be glad to meet you. Sorry I don't have your e-mail address


Michael Dembinski said...

Kagan said: [PRL}eradicated unemployment and poverty in Poland

What about underemployment? "Czy sie stoi czy sie lezy dwa tysiace sie nalezy" which conveys the same sense as the joke "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work". Kagan - do you remember queuing up for meat, toilet paper, socks? Do you remember when beer was unavailable? And don't blame the west for pulling the plugs on Gierek. PRL was a worker's "paradise" but a consumer's nightmare.

Kagan: [PRL] gave every young Pole a chance of advancement thru free, high quality education.

Free yes. High quality? Marxism/Leninism and other claptrap underpinning all areas of liberal arts and social sciences?

I consider SGPiS (now again SGH) as better than Department of Economics and Business of prestigious University of Melbourne.

State planning was a disaster.

Kagan - you cannot stop the world from globalising. The free market treats any attempts to manipulate it in the same way as water flows around a boulder.

The logical conclusion of your economic weltanschauung is to cut Poland off from global markets, prevent Poles from working abroad, trading with foreigners, or indulging in consumer choice. NO THANKS MATE.


Edward Lucas said...

I really think Kagan is reacting absurdly here.

Follow the chronology: I invite him to write a letter. I explain it needs to be short. He writes a very long one. I shorten it, combining various texts he has posted here. I make, incidentally, a special point of selecting the letter for publication out of the dozens that we have received. To be sure that we have expressed his views correctly in the edited form, we send it to him for checking.

At this stage he could politely request some changes in the wording. Instead he responds with a threat of litigation! Our letters editor,a very senior Economist journalist of great patience and courtesy, is rather insulted by this, and decides (despite my pleas) not to publish the letter. Kagan then threatens to sue again.

He also claims that we have deliberately distorted his letter, a charge not supported by the rather minor changes that he wants.

I am increasingly convinced that Kagan is a mischievously conceived fictional character, designed to stoke the stereotype of the absurdly paranoid and prickly Pole.

I invite the readers of this blog to vote online. Please post your verdict: do you think the Economist (and I) have behaved politely and professionally, or do you think Kagan is right?


Edward Lucas said...

what do you mean "totally" changed the sense of what you wrote?

You have made minor suggestions which we would have been glad to incorporate into the text if you had shown even minimum politeness, instead of which you prefer to spray your insulting and defamatory comments. How dare you accuse someone that you have never met of being racist, simply because he left out one letter in an unfamiliar surname?

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Mr Chmielewski

Thank you for your posting. I still think you have misunderstood my point about PiS and the Kaczynskis. Much of what you are referring to is cast as the view of "the critics". Then I ask, rhetorically, whether the critics have got it right, and go on to say that in large measure the criticism is unjust. I am no big fan of either J or L Kaczynski, but I think my survey treats them pretty fairly. Incidentally, Adam Bielan, who is very close to both of them, was a guest panellist at the launch of the survey and was most complimentary about it, saying that it was "balanced" and "objective". So I would be cautious about assuming that the Kaczynskis are ready to join in your libel suit against the Economist.

Thank you for your kind comments about the short-tempered Mr Kagan. Several people have written to me saying that they believe he does not in fact exist, and is a "troll". This is apparently internet slang for someone who assumes an identity in order to post abusive comments. This seems to me to be more plausible than the idea that he is really an economics professor at an American university in Cyprus! However I have not ruled out the hypothesis that he is actually the creation of my colleagues, who are playing an elaborate practical joke on me!



Edward Lucas said...

If The Economist, or I, were trying to stitch Kagan up, why would we bother to send him the edited draft of his letter for approval?

I am sorry that our letters editor misspelled his name but I should say that people with English names like Feathestonehaugh have on occasion found that not every Pole gets it right first time. I'm not defending ignorance or carelessness, but it seems to me that a very minor and unpublished error doesn't merit Kagan's furious reaction. All he had to do was to say "No I don't like this edited draft, please do it this way". And then he would have had the great pleasure of seeing his name and his views in The Economist.

To Pricklypole: I am sorry that I didn't include the "modern-patriotic" revival among Poles of his generation which is indeed an interesting phenonomenon. I agree that LK is becoming more statesmanlike as the months go by and his recent international meetings seem to have gone quite well.

I am surprised that you don't agree with me about gays, feminists, secularists and uppity foreigners. By the latter, for example, I mean the European Commission, about which both LK and JK have spoken publicly and critically.

You seem to be arguing that my survey is a lapse, "fact free" and so forth. Could I ask you to compare my survey with any other one written by the Economist (for example, the recent one about Italy). Tell me if you really see a big difference.

Finally, I must apologise to Kagan for saying (albeit tongue-in-cheek) that he might be a fictional creation. Several people have written to me with internet links showing that he is indeed a real person. It is still a mystery to me that someone of such obvious intelligence and education should find it necessary to express himself in such an undignified way.

Edward Lucas said...

just a coda to this story

I wrote to Mr Keller on Saturday asking him to resubmit, by Monday, a short letter which I would try to have published.

So far, no reply


Edward Lucas said...

Dear Mr Chmielewski

Sadly your letter arrived too late for publication--the deadline was really last week, with Monday morning the very latest.

A selection of letters about the survey will be in this evening's edition of The Economist.


Edward Lucas

Michael Dembinski said...

I'd be interested to know what response Jakub got to his letter to British lawyers...

[pricklypole wrote: I have contacted lawyers in the UK via e-mail ... and presented the case for their evaluation as to the possible liability to litigation under the libel laws ]

Did he hear, I wonder, about former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's action against the Mail on Sunday being thrown out of court in the space of 30 seconds?

Edward Lucas said...

what does everyone else think? Should I be apologising to Mr Keller, or vice versa?

Edward Lucas said...

I am reluctant to post further. But here are my responses to Mr Keller. I doubt anybody is still reading, but if they are, I'd be grateful for their views.

If I was trying to make you an idiot, why would I send you the text for review? And why did you make such minor changes to a text that was supposedly making you an idiot. And why did you not take up my offer to write a new text?
I can assure you that no other journalist on the Economist would dream of making this effort to secure publication of a critical letter. My colleagues think I am completely mad for even bothering to debate with you. I may be eccentric. But I am not racist. And I am not unfair. It seems to me that this is what annoys you most

I admit to mistakes everywhere. There were factual errors in my survey, and I am glad to have them corrected. There are many different interpretations of Polish politics and history, and I am certainly not claiming that mine is the only correct one. I will happily admit that my editing of your letter was not a perfect reflection of your thoughts.

But that is why I had it sent to you for comments.

The difference is that I admit my fallibility and seek to correct it. Do you?

Edward Lucas said...

just to say that yes I am still monitoring this amazing discussion. Mr Keller-Krawczyk wants to take me to the Commission for Racial Equality for anti-Polish prejudice. If at the end of this I am fired by the Economist, it will show what I always suspected, that there is much downside, and little upside, to this blogging business.

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Mr Chmielewski

Please don't call Kagan a maniac and a clown. He only called you verbose, which doesn't deserve such a vitriolic reply.

As far as I can see, you are arguing that the international media should just give up, as necessarily most of the articles cannot be written by experts on the subjects involved.

I also fail to understand why you take such exception to my remarks. I think that the last ex-commie govt was quite good at foreign policy. Kwasniewski did well in Ukraine. I may not like them as people, but even their harshest critics admit that they got things done.

Where on earth do you get the idea that I have a visceral loathing of Germany? (or for that matter Russia)? I speak German like a native, lived there for years, married a German, go there on holiday, read German literature. I also like Russia very much, especially literature, painting, poetry, music, although my Russian is not as good as my German.

Please try to be a) polite and b) rational in your postings.


Edward Lucas said...

yes but don't forget that I talked to dozens of diplomats (polish and foreign), wonks, and other foreign-policy observers. The Economist, unlike say the NYT, doesn't provide a sourced quote or fact for every observation. The reader just has to take it on trust. And everyone I spoke to about the Kaczynskis agree that they are pro-American and anti-Russian/German in their "gut" orientation. So I put that in. Of the hundreds of letters I have had in response to the survey, this is one observation that nobody apart from you has queried.

Incidentally, the Lech Kaczynski roadshow remains as chaotic as ever. He has just cancelled, at very short notice and in a very abrupt way, his speech at Chatham House, which is the main foreign-policy institute here in London. And I believe he has cancelled his whole visit too. That is very unusual behaviour, to put it mildly.

The anecdotes you object to seem to me to be quite revealing. JK doesn't realise, even 15 years later, that his behaviour at Kohl's office was odd. And LK didn't realise that doing a television interview while staring at your shoes is unlikely to come across well!

Michael Dembinski said...

L.K. was not at the Queen's Birthday Celebrations... but he did address a meeting of foreign investors organised (strangely) for the very same evening. Who was snubbing whom?

Michael Dembinski said...

Question for PricklyPole:

You seem very defensive of the current government. Can you summarise what it stands for? I can't see an overarching ethos behind it all. What's it about? What's it leading to? So unlike the Thatcher revolution, or what's happening in China, or even Ireland or Estonia.

The Kaczynski brothers (rightly) don't like communists. Rightly they want to stamp out corruption. But other than that - what are they about?

Poland needs to change dramatically. Attitudes need to change. Trust needs to be be built in Polish society. Communism effectively destroyed any sense of trust between human beings. It's not being rebuilt. Barriers between urzednicy and citizens persist. Young Poles are fleeing in their droves. Yesterday's reportage in Gazeta Wyborcza's magazine section about the Brit who's had enough after 13 years in Poland had many telling observations.

My fear about this government is that time is flying and reform isn't happening. Zyta Gilowska's departure is symptomatic of the sick state we're in.