There is no country in the 28 member European Union that has been impacted more grievously than Poland. Although Polish-Americans comprise a substantial component of the American population (one million Chicago Poles comprise the second most urban concentration of Polish population, second only to Warsaw), it’s a nation that is not generally considered central to the European Union; or thought of in commonality with the rest of Eastern Europe that came under the sway of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, a subordination that lasted till 1990, when the Communist empire broke up.
Part of this focused and troubled knowledge is its 20th century experience of internal and external savagery; this was not experienced in its intensity by any other European nation. The tragedy of Poland actually transcends hundreds of years during which the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and Russians partitioned this woebegone nation several times.
Although possessing a European-oriented religious, political and economic history, greatly influenced by German and French aristocracy, its intelligentsia and middle class was consistently subdued and even annihilated during its repeated partitions. This led to a dominant peasantry, deeply committed to the Catholic Church, and increasingly resentful of its 3.5 million Jewish population, 10% of its 36 million population, at the time of Poland’s conquest by Germany and Russia on September 15, 1939. The totality of Jews comprising Poland’s inhabitants were almost completely exterminated by the Nazis and some Polish collaborators. With an equal number of Catholic Poles also suffering under Germany’s diabolic occupation, it’s no wonder that practically all Nazi death camps were located in Poland. Therefore, it’s all the more remarkable that this eviscerated nation has not only outlived the Nazi horror, but also the consistently fought attempt of integration into the Soviet sphere after Russian post-war occupation.
Today’s Poland, with a population of just under 40 million, no larger than its pre-war 1939 level, is making an impressive comeback. Increased in size by 25% after annexing large slices of German Silesia and Pomerania, Poland has benefitted by a large consumer-demand-oriented population, and a considerably business-friendly political ruling class. Its econo-political decision in the wake of its Soviet domination has included an early joining of the European Union (2004) and the maintenance of its currency, the zloty, outside of the European Union’s monetary travail. Also fortunate has been the succeeding governments’ resistance to the temptation of higher taxes, which led to a welcoming surge of foreign imports and investments. It is one of the few European countries that resisted public overspending.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union’s empirical grip, Poland has literally become a model of free market economics. From 1989 to 2007, Poland’s economy has grown 177%, outpacing both Central and Eastern European neighbors. This has allowed its overall economy to triple in size— a direct result of economic measures taken by a succession of business-oriented governments.
Price controls were lifted, government wages were capped, trade was liberalized and the “zloty” was made convertible. These policies left millions out of work, as Poland freed itself from Communism’s decades of mismanagement. However, this was ameliorated to a large extent by its joining the EU, which allowed many unemployed to find gainful work in other European Union nations as far away as Ireland. This has abated since the 2008-10 great recession, but allowed many of these transferees to return back home, as Poland was lucky enough to avoid much of the “great recession” economic disaster.
With the European Union’s average debt of over 90% of its gross domestic product and the U.S. about 100%, Poland’s is less than 60%. Even its Warsaw stock market has kept pace with America’s percentage growth, and its demand economy continues to be robust. Perhaps the tragedy of its partially self-inspired disasters have finally given that once tortured nation a much better future lease on life.
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