Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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Is our Generation the Lost Generation?

Is my generation the lost generation? We were born in 50-es, 60-es or 70-es and raised during communism therefore we never learned the virtues of capitalistic society which we live in now.

It is hard to imagine how much Poland changed during the last twenty years. One can argue, the whole world changed, the progress is much faster now than ever before but... Poland went not only through the civilization progress like almost any other country but it drastically changed its economical system.

Economical progress was delayed during the communism in Eastern Block while in the same time life became so much easier for Westen European societies. Therefore, when Eastern Europe finally opened their boarders, when the Berlin wall felt and when we joined the European Union, Poland had to do much bigger step to even up with the rest of Europe.

It was uneasy to live during communism. It is hard for me to imagine to go back to these times. We had to get used to the state of nearly permanent economical crisis on 60s, 70s and 80s and the constant imbalance between the supply and demand. 

The crisis of the 80s was the worst since it was followed by brief prosperity period during the first half of the Gierek's decade (1971-76). Edward Gierek became the first secretary of Polish Workers Party (PZPR) after the strike of shipyard workers in Gdansk in December of 1970 [Ref]. The strike was a consequence of drastic increase in prices of basic food products. During communism all basic food products had their prices fixed, for example the price of butter bar was the same everywhere. When Gierek was elected a new first secretary which was equivalent of being a leader of the country, he made lots of promises. He promided to keep the food prices on the same level as before, he also promised a better standard of life for everybody. He had grandiose ideas. He invested in huge industrial projects: new highways, a huge steelwork in Katowice. In order to do so he had to take expensive loans from abroad.

People got used to a better more comfortable life. Gierek was a real statesman, he lived abroad before, he knew some foreign languages, he was able to obtain big loans which eventually had to be paid. As a consequence, Poland was almost bankrupted at late 70s and Poles had to carry a heavy burden of debt which steeply reduced our standard of life. The economy crashed drastically, the ambitious industrial projects had to be limited or cut, the currency was devalued, it became worthless. The demand for basic products (food, soap, washing powder, gasoline etc) was much higher than the supply. It did not help that Poles became used to the old good times of the beginning of Gierek administration and did not want to reduce their standard of life. Read more about it in the article: Food Problems and the Growing Political Opposition 1976-1980.

Since the end of 70s until the end of the 80s Poland went through the period of inflation and then hyperinflation. We were earning millions (in Polish currency "zloty") but it was almost impossible to buy anything except for rationed products. Exported goods became a luxury. The prices for oranges, banana and coffee were skyrocketed on the black market.

The initial transition from communism to capitalism was very fast. It all started in 1988 with the last communistic government of Mieczyslaw Rakowski who was previously a main editor of "Polityka" - a respected journal. Rakowski's government allowed the market to dictate the prices for basic products. I remember I was working as a tour guide in Eastern Germany this summer. I called my mother home worrying how my family is surviving a sudden change. My mother sounded comforting. According to her, the food prices increased indeed, but they stabilized at some realistic level so that finally the majority of products were available on the market without standing in long lines for many hours. 

The small businesses grew everywhere. I remember walking through the center of my hometown Krakow and seeing sudden changes. The stores were growing like mushrooms after a good rain and streets were cleaner and more colorful. Unfortunately, the progress was uneven.  In my work place - Institute of Nuclear Physics in Krakow - the clock was stopped. Many highly educated people worked there but the salaries were low and they were not keeping a pace with the rest of the society. Many people either went to work abroad temporarily or stayed there forever, since there could not see their future in Poland. This was not a new trend, young and highly educated people were leaving Poland in big numbers since the beginning of the 80s and this trend continued until the beginning of 90s.  In the early 90s some good paid jobs were created in Polish bank industry and these jobs were taken by many Physics and Math graduates.  

So, what really happened to my generation after the communism was gone? More about it in the other articles which will follow.

 Baba JagaReferences:

Edward Gierek, Polish Leader from Decade 1970-1980

 Baba Jaga, December 2008

Recommended reading(s):

If you want to understand political, social and economical changed that takes place in Poland in the mid-1980 I recommend an excellent book written by Jadwiga Staniszkis entitled: The Dynamics of the Breakthrough in Eastern Europe: The Polish Experience

See also this book about Polish economy Poland's Jump to the Market Economy (Lionel Robbins Lectures) by Jeffrey Sachs (Author)

Jeffrey Sachs is not only a Harvard professor who knows a lot about world economies but his ideas influenced directly Polish economy through reforms done by Polish finance minister, Leszek Balcerowicz.

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