Please accept my apologies for the long delay in posting on the blog. I have recently got married in Poland to my lovely new wife and have only just returned from our honeymoon. Normal service will be resuming soon on Forecasting Intelligence!
I thought you may find interesting my on-the-ground thoughts on how Poland has developed since the end of Communism and how the ordinary people feel about the European Union, Russia and the migration crisis.
I first visited Poland in 2000 during a tour of central and Eastern Europe when it was still recovering from dark days of being a satellite state of the Soviet Russian Empire. The contrast between the West and East was stark as you crossed the border between the enlarged Germany and Poland with respect to the roads, quality of life and general development. This was prior to Poland joining the European Union (“EU”) in 2004 and it was clear to me that in many ways Poland was still a developing country.
Despite the relative poverty I found the Polish people the friendliest and welcoming of all the countries we toured and Krakov was a stunning city with lots of history and culture. Even then, I had the sense that at some point in my future, I would be returning to Poland.
After I met my Polish wife a few years ago, I returned a second time to Poland to meet her family, who live in the south-eastern part of Poland, near the Ukrainian border. What struck me the most was the massive improvement in the overall infrastructure and development of the country since I had last visited 13 years ago. The region was filled with gleaming new motorways; the regional cities had modern new airports and shopping malls with all the brands common to a West European city. Poland had arrived.
Whilst in the countryside and the cities there are still pockets of deep poverty, the overall standard of living has massively improved since the end of the Cold War for the average Pole. Speaking to ordinary Poles, it was clear that the vast majority appreciated the benefits of membership of the EU, including the freedom to travel and work in Britain and Germany and the development aid which had transformed the country for the better. There also seemed to be a consensus that Poland would join the euro in the future but only once wages and living costs had caught up with the west European standard. Overall Poland seemed comfortable about its role within the EU and optimistic about the future of the country.
The spectre of Russia still haunted the Polish psyche and President Putin was a feared figure across Polish society. The Ukrainian crisis had erupted and the Poles take very seriously the prospect of another Russian invasion which is understandable given their tortured history.
The migration crisis in 2015 transformed Europe’s politics and was the critical factor in the Brexit vote in my opinion. The scenes of huge numbers of young Muslim men marching across the Balkans into Germany horrified many across Europe, in particular central-Eastern Europe. Virtually every single Polish friend and family member was opposed to Angela Merkel’s decision to open the borders to the vast hordes of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa (”MENA”).
The migration crisis and the rising wave of Islamist terror attacks across Western Europe have sharpened the sense that the importation of significant Muslim populations has been an historic mistake. Poland and other countries in the former Warsaw Pact bloc are determined to avoid making the same perceived mistakes. This is the principal reason for the rise of nationalist governments to power in the region.
The political elites of Western Europe, including the Brussels bureaucracy, think that it is only sensible that every country in Europe should share the burden in hosting refugees who have arrived in Europe since 2015. The fact that clear majorities in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are opposed to such a thing matters little. Since 2015, relations between Poland and the EU have sharply deteriorated.
My visit to Poland this year was naturally dominated by planning for the wedding but there were a number of conversations about the EU, the migration dispute and the Euro. I noted that among ordinary Poles, a hardening of positions on preserving the Zloty currency, keeping the refugees out of the country and in some quarters a sympathetic view on Britain’s Brexit vote last year which I had successfully predicted.
If Europe insists that Poland accepts Muslim refugees, I think that a narrow majority of Polish people would be prepared to leave the EU. This intuitive feeling of mine has been confirmed by a recent poll, as noted in this Bloomberg article, in which “…fifty-one percent said they’d be ready to surrender membership in the 28-member trading bloc”. Whilst any Polexit scenario remains unlikely for the foreseeable future, it should not be dismissed outright.
The Polish people have suffered greatly in the 20th century and those in their eighties can still remember the barbaric Nazi occupation, the brutal post-war years and the poverty and shortages under Communism. They are a proud, dignified and strong people who value their culture, traditions and the independence restored since the end of the Berlin Wall. Poland has now crossed a point that it can survive, and indeed prosper, outside the EU, if needs be, should it decide that this is in its best interests. The economy is booming, real wages are rising and EU aid is no longer quite as vital as it was a decade ago.
My own view is that a generation from now Poland could be one of the main economic great powers of Europe, if it plays its cards right in the coming years. I will be preparing soon a mega-post on the future of Europe in a post-peak world which will incorporate the likely impact of further mass movements of people from an imploding MENA region as well as other key trends, including resource scarcity, technological regression and accelerating man-made climate change.
I hope you enjoyed this post.