June 16, 2014 By Piotr Aleksandrowicz
The www.gazeta.pl website recently published a list of 12 images illustrating what has changed for the better and what has changed for the worse in the Polish economy after 1989. The website named successes such as growing nominal wages (but didn't take inflation into account), new freeways, new public buildings such as the opera house in Białystok, the first session of the Warsaw Stock Exchange and Poland joining the OECD. The biggest failures were, meanwhile, the state of Polish railways, the decline of coal mining in Poland, the bankruptcy of most Polish shipyards and the fact “no Polish-designed car has gone into serial production” since Poland produced the Fiat 126p and the communist-era Syrena passenger cars.
This selection of highlights and lowlights is random and silly, but then it was not intended to be informative or opinionated. The aim was to make suckers like me click on the list 12 or 13 times. Nevertheless, the article prompted over 100 comments. Some pointed out that Poland’s surviving shipyards were now producing ships with a much higher added value, that the Fiat 126p was not designed in Poland and that Polish car factories now roll out two or three times more cars than before.
Still, the vast majority of people who left comments dismissed the list as propaganda and said it should have included more of the failures that have plagued Poland over the past 25 years, such as falsified elections, exploitation, money being drained out of Poland and millions of Poles emigrating out of the country. Some of the comments came with statistics attempting to back the claims, usually with glaring miscalculations. And one comment said, “There were happy people in death camps too. They were the guards.” Others added that things were better in Poland before the end of communism in 1989. You could, of course, say that this is just negativity. Another internet user summed it all up saying, “You’re all a bunch of sad and bitter little people full of bile.”
But it’s not just about bile. A few days ago, a Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans were happy with their standard of life, and 59 percent said things were improving. Needless to say, the optimists outnumbered the pessimists by far. In Poland, data collected by the GUS central statistical office since 1997 shows that the number of people negative about their current and future situation has always been higher than that of people who are positive, even in the years when the economy and wages in Poland were growing 4-6 percent a year. Well, that’s just Poland for you. This national pessimism obviously hinders development. But thankfully it's not the decisive factor.