Sunday, March 28, 2004

Polish economy hums, but only for some
By Associated Press
Published March 28, 2004


WARSAW - A Polish company exports tulips to Holland. Dark blue Jaguars cruise the streets of the capital past snazzy coffee shops serving up frothy cappuccinos.

Just weeks before Poland joins the European Union on May 1, Warsaw struts a new prosperity. But all is not what it seems: Despite strong economic growth driven by exports, the country faces high unemployment, political uncertainty and vast corruption.

"It's a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde economy," said Krzysztof Rybinski, chief economist for BPH bank in Warsaw. "And the first few months of EU membership will show whether Jekyll or the monster Hyde will prevail."

Paradoxes abound. Those who can afford new Volvos or BMWs must drive them along potholed roads. The hip cafes that draw fashionable young people are often housed in drab Stalinist-era concrete blocks.

And many of the luxury goods for sale in the bright new shops and malls remain off-limits to many in Poland, where only 1 percent earn more than $18,000 a year.

Such contrasts exist in all eight former communist states due to join the EU, but the stakes are highest in Poland, the largest of the new countries.

With more than 38-million people, Poland accounts for 52 percent of the new EU citizens. Poles will be 8.4 percent of the union's population, so its economic performance will have a major effect on the rest of the bloc, the world's largest economic union.

Analysts say Poland's greatest economic strength is the many modern, efficient companies that have made the transition and are selling successfully to EU countries.

Ten years ago, Polish exports consisted mostly of raw products like coal, sulfur, apples and meat. Today exports also include higher value goods like precision surgical instruments, pharmaceuticals and car engines.

Among the successes is a Polish company that exports tulips to the Netherlands. In 2003, Poland overtook Sweden as the largest European manufacturer for Swedish furnishings giant Ikea. Only China produces more for Ikea, according to figures provided by the company.

"Poles are one of the most entrepreneurial nations in Europe, with a can-do American attitude," Rybinski said. "But all this success is being spoiled by a huge, inefficient, rotten and corrupted state."

Of the 10 new EU countries, corruption is perceived to be highest in Poland, according to Transparency International, a private group that monitors corruption.

"Companies that refuse to pay bribes are harassed and often go bankrupt," said Magda Brennek of the organization's Poland branch. "Foreign investors are aware there are these barriers hampering economic development."

Despite a growth rate projected at 5 percent for this year, the highest of any new EU country, Poland has not attracted enough foreign investment to bring down its 20 percent unemployment rate.

Some investors are put off by infrastructure weaknesses including old and unsafe railroad tracks, a lack of modern highways and broad areas lacking in fixed-line telephone coverage.

Tax regulations, complicated and always in flux, make things more difficult.

The government tried to help matters by lowering the corporate tax rate this year from 27 to 19 percent, but investors remain leery because they fear the government will be forced to raise it again in coming years to pay off the huge deficit, Rybinski said.

Though its military alliance with the United States in Iraq is strong, political leadership at home is weak. On Friday, Prime Minister Leszek Miller said he would step down the day after Poland joins the EU - the result of low approval ratings in part because of government spending cuts meant to make the country ready for the EU.

In a drive to cut unemployment and bring down a huge deficit, Miller has struggled recently to push through spending cuts and other promarket measures.

Government critics say the cuts are too timid. But there are success stories.

Irena Eris, 50, founded her cosmetics company - called Dr Irena Eris - in 1983, when Poland was under communist rule.

Today her company has a 16 percent share of the domestic market for skin creams, roughly the same as that of cosmetics giant L'Oreal. It is also boosting exports to the United States, Russia, Germany and several other counties.

During communism, Eris said, she had to limit production to avoid incurring the wrath of communist officials who viewed entrepreneurs with great suspicion and shut down private businesses that did too well.

"There was nothing in the shops and people wanted to buy something good," Eris said. "But I couldn't sell it because of the risk of angering communist officials."

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Poland: NGOs draw attention to violence against women

Taken from report "Women in Poland 2003" produced by the Women's Rights Center in Poland.

From the beginning of the '90s, significant changes began to occur in the area of violence against women in Poland. This issue is better highlighted in the media. More and more programs and NGOs dealing with this issue have been set up, although issue of VAW is still hidden in a shadow of secrecy and prejudice. The legal system and activities of law enforcement agencies combating violence against women are still ineffective -- police officers often treat domestic violence as private matter and are reluctant to prosecute perpetrators.

In August, the government adopted the National Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women 2003-2005 and pledged to introduce legislation ensuring effective protection of women and children who are subjected to violence.

Most important issues regarding VAW in Poland are: domestic violence, rape and prostitution and trafficking of women.

· Domestic violence
Although there are no comprehensive statistics concerning domestic violence, the problem is believed to be serious, widespread and affecting women from all backgrounds. According to Public Opinion Research Center data, one in eight women polled in 2002 stated that they had been beaten by their partners. According to 2002 research, 43% of women and 31% of men polled know at least one women who had been beaten by their husband. There are insufficient places where women could seek refuge or assistance.

· Rape
There are no also comprehensive statistics concerning rape in Poland. Most women are reportedly raped by men they know. Marital rapes are widespread, but many women do not consider that they have a right to refuse sexual intercourse with their husband. Survivors of rape have problems getting justice. Court cases on rape are usually very long and often lead to victimisation of raped women. Policemen, prosecutors and judges very often hold the women responsible for rape, asserting that it was provoked by their own behaviour (i.e. dress, lifestyle before rape, etc.).

· Trafficking of women
Organized crime plays a key role in trafficking. Women are usually recruited by attractive job offers in Western Europe and then kidnapped and forced to work as prostitutes. The Polish government does not pay sufficient attention to trafficking of women. This issue is highlighted in the media as a result of efforts undertaken by NGOs. NGOs also organize assistance for survivors of trafficking.