If you know Polish history, you cannot help but marvel at the country’s emergence from the ashes of its traumatic past (powstanie kraju z popiołów swojej traumatycznej przeszłości). Over the last 25 years, Poland, after centuries of war and subjugation (po wiekach wojen i niewoli), has enjoyed peace (pokój), a stable and booming economy (stabilna i kwitnąca gospodarka), and integration (integracja) with the rest of Europe.
An independent kingdom for the previous 800 years, in 1795, Poland was wiped off the map of Europe and absorbed into three great neighboring powers: the Prussian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires, a state of affairs that lasted until 1918. Reborn following World War I, Poland spent a few short years as a democracy before proving ungovernable, succumbing to dictatorship, and then once again being conquered and divided (zdobyta i podzielona), this time by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in 1939. Over the next six years, Poland found itself at the center of what the historian Timothy Snyder has called the “bloodlands” of Europe; an estimated five million Poles died between 1939 and 1945, more than half of them Polish Jews. The Nazis and the Soviets also wiped out the cream of the crop of Poland’s intelligentsia and clergy. Warsaw was reduced to rubble, and mass graves were sown across the landscape. Then came four gray and sooty decades of communist domination (dominacja komunistyczna). Only the Catholic Church offered Poles any hope.
Since communism collapsed in 1989, however, Poland has experienced a remarkable reversal of fortune (niezwykłe odwrócenie fortuny). After leading the protest movement that toppled the old regime, the trade union Solidarity won democratic elections and initiated aggressive, market-oriented economic reforms. The communist Polish United Workers’ Party turned into the capitalist Democratic Left Alliance, which won elections in 1993 and 1995 and led the country into NATO in 1999. And in 2004, Poland joined the European Union as a full member, cementing its close alliance with Germany, its erstwhile antagonist.
The Polish economy, meanwhile, has grown rapidly for two decades, at more than four percent per year, the fastest speed in Europe, and garnered massive investment in its companies and infrastructure. Poland’s is now the sixth-largest economy in the EU. Living standards more than doubled between 1989 and 2012, reaching 62 percent of the level of the prosperous countries at the core of Europe.
Poland’s economic freedom score is 68.6, making its economy the 42nd freest in the 2015 Index. Its score is 1.6 points better than last year, driven by improvements in half of the 10 economic freedoms, especially freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, the management of government spending, and monetary freedom. Poland is ranked 19th out of 43 countries in the Europe region, and its overall score is above the world average.
Over the past five years, Poland’s economic freedom score has advanced by 4.5 points, the largest improvement in the region. Gains in eight of the 10 economic freedoms include double-digit strides in financial freedom and freedom from corruption. In the 2015 Index, Poland has recorded its highest economic freedom score ever.
How did Poland manage so decisively to move beyond the repeated tragedies of its past? The question is rarely asked by market analysts, whose sense of Poland seems to go no further back than the economic reforms of the 1990s. Those reforms are indeed part of the story, but only part it, and focusing exclusively on them obscures the deeper causes of the country’s resurgence. Explaining Poland’s economic boom, and why it is likely to last, requires a deeper look into its troubled history.
I’ve been traveling to Poland within last 10 years a lot…and I see big differences every time I go! Polish economy is amazing and I hope it will stay like this, or only will get better:)
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)