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People, Prosperity, Poland 1918 – 2018

by K. Bhana

According to historical records the Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025 and its origins can be trace backed to 966 AD. As a liberal state the Polish people adopted one of the earliest constitutions on May 3 1791.

Photo: Warsaw, Poland’s capital replicated from paintings and images

In 1918 after the ‘First World War’ Poland was re-established (regained its independence after 123 years of partition of the country by Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empires) and recognized as a country under the Treaty of Versailles. It enjoyed relative stability as a sovereign state until the invasion in 1939 by Hitler’s Nazi German army as well as by Stalin’s Soviet Red army. The invasion marked the end of the policy of appeasement and the beginning of the Second World War. The worst and most gruesome atrocities of humankind carried out by the Nazis who occupied the country were documented and became known as a holocaust.

In 2018 a hundred years after its establishment, Poland is re-emerging. A study tour of the country reveals a new confidence of a people who suffered the trauma of occupation and the betrayal of the allied forces.
 
The capital city Warsaw was razed to the ground during its occupation. It was rebuilt as an exact replica of the old city which lends to the charms of the city, but is also a stark reminder of the devastation it once experienced.
However, after bearing the brunt of Nazi occupation, Poland was incorporated into the Warsaw pact at the end of the war. Some feel that they were betrayed by the allied forces, leaving the country at the mercy of Stalin’s USSR and robbing Poland of determining its own destiny once again.
 

 

 

Photo: The Presidential Palace where the Warsaw Pact was signed, today a NATO flag represents the clean break Poland has made from its past

The Warsaw Pact signed in May 1955 constituted the nine central and east European countries together with Russia and was a direct response the formation of the western bloc’s, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and marked the beginning of the ideological Cold War and the arms race.
 

 

 

Photo: The iconic entrance gates to the Gdansk shipyard

Lech Wałęsa sparked the Solidarity movement at the height of the Cold War. The rise of the solidarity movement has its origins in the deteriorating economic situation in Poland, which led to high food prices and low wages. 

The underground trade union emerged after Anna Walentynowicz was fired from her job at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. The entrance gates to the shipyard and the protests of the Solidarity movement have become iconic.

With covert support from the west the movement grew to 10 million strong forcing the Soviets to the negotiating table.

In 1990 Wałęsa was elected President of Poland in the wake of a collapsing Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR).

Today Poland is the fastest growing economy in Europe and is accelerating to achieve new heights according to World Bank calculations. The Warsaw Stock Exchange has over 400 listings and trade around 25 indices.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: The Bell at the Warsaw Stock Exchange

The Ministry of Innovation and Entrepreneurship has produced a strategy to encourage new enterprises through grant funding, tax breaks for research and development, eco systems and clustering for start-ups.

Special Economic Zones (SEZ) have also been set up with incubation of business and other infrastructure support.

Gdansk, in the north on Poland’s Baltic coast, has become the centre of Poland’s burgeoning shipbuilding industry. Remontowa Shipbuilding is equipped with the essential infrastructure and production capabilities to design and build fully equipped ships up to 130 metres long and 24 metres in width.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: A metal press at the Remontowa Shipyard

Poland’s unemployment rate stood at 6.9% in January 2018. It’s GDP per capita is expected to rise to U$ 15835 in 2019. It has around 400 Higher Education institutes and 1.5 million students.

These among other incentives make Poland an attractive investment destination.

In South Africa the Embassy of Poland showed a moving documentary of the Smolensk tragedy. It was a commemoration of the 96 people who lost their lives in a plane crash. On board the Presidential plane was President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, senior dignitaries, military officers and management and support staff. The documentary captured interviews with widows who lost their loved ones in the crash. Their comments and reflections emphasize their sorrow and grief putting aside the conspiracy and politics that followed the tragedy.
 

 

 

 

 

Photo: A plaque commemorating the various air forces that contributed to the war effort including the South African Air Force.

South Africa and Poland have been strengthening relations over the years of diplomatic interactions.

Several delegations including the agricultural and defence sectors have visited South Africa and have engaged in high level discussions for cooperation.

Poland’s main trade with South Africa is in automotive components while South African wines are being enjoyed in Poland. South African Real Estate companies have also made investments in commercial property in Poland.

 With many trendy bars and restaurants and hipster culture present in Poland and a young population many of whom do not speak Russian unlike their parents and grandparents, Poland has made a clean break from its past and immersed itself in the modern global era.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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January/February 2020

 
 
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