THE TWO POLANDS
Prosperous Poland: In Poznan, a Bourgeoisie Flourishes
THE road leading through the new housing complex and up to Andrzej Mroczoszek's town house is still an unpaved bumpy track. His modest two-door Peugeot hatchback is parked on a dirt patch before the front gate. Next door, amid building materials and bags of cement mix, his neighbors lounge in the sunshine on glistening white lawn furniture.Skip to next paragraph
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This is Poland's emerging middle class, found mostly in cities responding well to economic reforms, such as Warsaw, Krakow, and Poznan. Because of their diverse economic base and cultural importance, these cities make good breeding grounds for entrepreneurs.
But growth in Poland is highly uneven. Vast agricultural regions and one-industry towns suffer unemployment rates of nearly 20 percent and higher. In those areas people are worried about day-to-day existence, not lawn furniture. The country is increasingly divided into a Poland prospering under capitalism and a Poland still struggling to survive the post-communist recession. (See map, below.)
According to Mr. Mroczoszek (pronounced Mro-CHO-shek), you need only three things to make it in today's Poland: money, money, and money. "When I started to build this house in 1987, you needed a lot of friends and connections to get even a single thing. But after 1990, there was no problem getting what you needed. It's so much better now. If you have money, you just go to the store," he says with wonder.
By the looks of his three-story brick row house, Mroczoszek has money. Nearly every room is newly furnished: There is an ivory-colored leather sofa set in the fireplace nook; a sleek, black dining set; and a master bedroom set. The kitchen, paneled in pine, has a country look. The family's outlook, however, isn't entirely rosy; the house is also home to the Mroczoszeks' daughter and son-in-law, who aren't in a position to afford their own place.
Mroczoszek was able to buy his house through a combination of factors: cheap land offered to employees of the Polish railroad; a loan that he paid back before interest rates shot up in 1990; and his multiple jobs. Full-time, he works as an attorney for the railroad. Part-time, he contracts himself out to other companies.
Poznan is diverse enough for Mroczoszek to find markets for his services.
The 600,000 residents are said to be efficient and organized, a reputation developed in the 19th century when this region of Poland was occuppied by Prussians. At that time, the local Poles were determined to out-German the Germans by being better businessmen and better farmers.
Poznan almost feels like a German city. Its streets look to be the cleanest in Poland and tidy new stores line the sidewalks. Located on the Berlin-Moscow railway line, the city has grown into a significant trade center, hosting 23 trade fairs annually.
Poznan is the fifth-largest city in Poland, but in terms of new business start-ups, it is second only to Warsaw, says local economist Jozef Orczyk. Its unemployment rate of 5 percent to 6 percent is one of the lowest in Poland, "and we've got more cars per capita than anywhere else," he says.
PERHAPS the proliferation of cars is due to people like Witold Gajdzinski and his wife Barbara, owners of three cars - a Volvo, a Renault, and a Citroen, the last purchased purely as a hedge against inflation. But over a dinner of homemade potato pancakes in their newly purchased apartment, the Gajdzinskis explain that they've benefited from the reforms not only in monetary ways.
"It's more than just the money," says Mrs. Gajdzinski, a translator of scientific texts. "I can organize my life now. It's easier. Everything is more accessible now and I see better prospects for my children," 9-year-old Kay and 3-year-old Kevin.
For the first time, she adds, parents have a say at their childrens' schools. Kay, playing with her Barbie doll in the next room, has started private piano lessons, a privilege granted only to the most promising students in communist times.
The family is keen to perfect English, and as the dinner conversation rolls along, the building's satellite dish beams the American television sitcom "Family Ties" into the living room. Greater access to information and books, even a friendlier atmosphere at the office, are all improvements which Mrs. Gajdzinski appreciates in the new Poland.
For her husband, democratic Poland means he can be his own boss. Mr. Gajdzinski manages warehouses that were first confiscated by the Nazis and finally returned to his family after the fall of communism. He is making much better money than when he worked as a mechanical engineer and the work is more satisfying, he says. "Before, when I went to work, sometimes it was interesting and sometimes it was boring," Gajdzinski recalls. "Now, I do what I want to do and I have more free time. I feel like a human be ing."