Economic Boom Poland Is Europe's New High-Flyer
Part 2: A More Open and Easygoing Country
It feels like a startup in the offices across from Czarnecki's new skyscraper, amid the cubicles, orange beanbag chairs and isotonic soft drinks in the refrigerator. Here, some 50 programmers are developing components for Microsoft's Bing search engine and other software. "There are some very good computer scientists here," says Rusewicz. The most talented professionals earn almost as much in Wroclaw today as they do in Boston, he adds. "The young people in Poland are highly motivated."
After returning from the United States, Rusewicz was astonished by the enormous shift in the mentality of younger Poles. The country's historic traumas -- the suffering under the Nazis, the Katyn massacre, during which Soviet intelligence agents wiped out almost the entire Polish elite, and the depressing period under the communists -- were no longer an issue. "None of the people working here are interested in the Polish cult of martyrdom, which preoccupied the country for decades," he says.
Poland has become more open and easygoing, which has also helped ease tensions with its neighbors, particularly in the West. Rafal Dutkiewicz, who has just won reelection as mayor of Wroclaw with more than 70 percent of the vote, senses this on his trips abroad, to Berlin, for example. The German capital is a three-hour drive from Wroclaw, while the trip to Warsaw takes four-and-a-half hours. He stays at the Grand Hyatt on Potsdamer Platz, he feels comfortable as he walks through the lobby in casual clothes, and his German is perfect. He meets with politicians and business leaders in Berlin, including German President Christian Wulff.
"We Poles Are Very Ambitious"
"The economy in Wroclaw is developing at a faster pace than in China," he says. Eight years ago, 200,000 passengers a year were arriving at the city's airport. Today it's two million. Since EU accession, wages have gone up by 50 percent in Wroclaw, and the city's tax revenues have tripled.
Dutkiewicz provides investors with the services of personal project managers, who are paid for with city funds and help them get whatever they need, from building land to construction permits to hotel rooms. "We Poles are no better than other nations, but we are very ambitious. We come from the very bottom and we want to get to the very top," he says.
It's been three years since the conservative nationalist Kaczynski brothers were in charge in Warsaw, but now the ice age in German-Polish relations has thawed. Following Prime Minister Donald Tusk's arrival into power in Warsaw, the dispute over the planned center for expellees in Berlin was settled without much fanfare. Today, Poles and Germans jointly advocate a more powerful EU military force.
Berlin and Warsaw have found even more common ground during the euro crisis. When Chancellor Angela Merkel was hesitant to agree to financial guarantees for Greece, she received surprising support from the Poles. Warsaw and Berlin are both committed to economic austerity. The Polish constitution includes a debt limit, and the banking sector is subject to strict controls that largely prevented Poles, unlike the Hungarians and those in some Baltic states, from borrowing in foreign currencies. In Budapest and Riga, such loans drove hundreds of thousands of small companies into bankruptcy during the crisis.
The National Bank of Poland, on the other hand, devalued the zloty and was thus able to enhance Poland's export capacity. Prime Minister Tusk, eager not to relinquish this instrument too soon, apparently doesn't want to introduce the euro until 2015. Nevertheless, Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski is already a frequent guest at meetings of the Euro Group.
The Merkel administration in Berlin hopes that Poland will become its ally in the conflict with the spendthrift southern countries in the Euro Group. This suits Warsaw's ambitions. In July, Poland will assume the chairmanship of the European Council for the first time, in the expectation that it will finally be able to cooperate on equal terms with Europe's big players.
"I am a fan of the European Union," says Wroclaw Mayor Dutkiewicz, who shares the sentiments of many Poles -- a people who could very well be the biggest champions of the European idea on the continent. "We have managed to derive maximum benefits from our membership," says Dutkiewicz.
Wroclaw's Most Impressive Export
This would probably never have happened without Poland's new view of the Germans. Anyone who disagrees should meet Marek Krajewski.
Krajewski lives on Grunwald Street, surrounded by a sedate middle-class world of high ceilings, textile wallpaper, thick carpets and massive tiled stoves in every room. Thick leather-bound volumes fill the antique bookshelf, while a modern flat screen TV is concealed to the left of the bureau.
As a child, Krajewski watched the Polish communists try to eradicate all things German in the city. They renamed the streets, flattened German cemeteries, removed old monuments and turned Breslau into Wroclaw. But not all traces could be erased. "The Poles were always secretly attracted to the German past," says Krajewski. "They feared the Germans because of history, and yet they admired them for their economic prowess."
He should know, because he now produces Wroclaw's most impressive export -- crime novels which have a German, Eberhard Mock, as the protagonist. Set in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s, Mock works for the vice squad in Breslau, as Wroclaw was once known. He is a hard drinker, corrupt and attracted to loose women. But he also hunts down murderers.
Mock's cases have been translated into 18 languages, and the German antihero is a superstar in Poland. Mock author Krajewski has already sold more than a million copies of his novels "Death in Breslau," "Ghosts in Breslau" and "Fortress Breslau."
"My success shows that the Poles are slowly overcoming their Germany complex," he says. The fact that they often spend their evenings with detective Mock is a sign of their new self-confidence, Krajewski believes. "We have become citizens of the world. We are no longer the victims."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Poland Is Europe's New High-Flyer
- Part 2: A More Open and Easygoing Country