Came back from Poland last Monday, April 25. We travel to this eastern European country twice a year, primarily to visit my mom-in-law and brother-in-law. Because MFBB has been dating, engaging and marrying this Polish gal since late 1997 that means his paths have led him eastwards some 16 times, oh yes. And I can assure you that in that short time span I have witnessed quite some change for the good.
Now, the following pics may not seem to be such a big deal. Excavating machinery, highways, bridges built etc etc. Yet these are common scenes everywhere in Poland. The whole country is in a building frenzy. The first photo shows work on new street pavements in my wife's birthplace. The next two ones, road infrastructure works between Cracow (the ancient capital) and Zakopane (the Polish Aspen, CO so to say). The last two ones show the highway, facing west, near Katowice, a key city in Poland's industrial south. This highway was only refurbished a couple of years ago, and one key section was brand new - when we travelled to Zakopane in early fall 2005, we still had to go through Bytom at some point. I an tell you that the new Polish highways are a dream to ride on: smooth as a billiard-table, clear and state-of-the-art roadsigns, easygoing turnpikes, well-spaced parking lots on regular intevals. The only things that are still lacking somewhat are gas stops with fancy road restos but I'm sure they are on their way.
It wasn't like that even four years ago. When crossing the German-Polish border I could technically stay on the E40, one of Europes main east-west highways, sort of the Euro equivalent of the US's Interstates. But since the polished German Autobahn suddenly transformed in a endless row of raw concrete slabs spaced inches apart and almost overlapping each other, I always preferred to take the secondary roads. Driving 80kloms an hour on a Polish "highway" in 2002 was about the fastest I dared, and left me with a numb butt after 10 minutes. Not so last week: I regularly did 160 kloms an hour and thought I was surfing.
Downeast being a bastion of Haynekian wackos, these pics would seem odd here since appearing to illustrate the Keynesian approach: huge public works to boost the economy. The point is, I simply didn't have time to peek around and take shots at one of the many new industrial estates, also buzzing with activity. Anyway, take my word for it: from east to west and north to south the Polish are working their asses off to shape their future. Still, unemployment is high: it stands at 18% nationwide, only 1.5% or so down from last year, and this positive development is helped to a great extent by Polish workers earning their bread elsewhere in Europe. If I'd have to believe my brother-in-law, there's a million Poles working either black or white in the UK and Ireland. Now, while I'm willing to take that number with a grain of salt, I'm sure there's at least several hundreds of thousands of them across the Channel. And in my own country, it is commonly accepted that there's some 100,000 Polish expats, half of them in construction. When Poland and other former Eastern Bloc countries joined the EU in 2004, the "old" member states imposed temporary restrictions on the influx of (cheap) eastern european workers so as dampen the shock of legions of work-savvy immigrants to an already strained labor market. But right now, in Belgium e.g., the need for skilled labour in construction is so desperate that the government, or rather the more free market VLD, not the socialists, is actually trying to undo some of the restricting measures to attract tens of thousands more of Poles.
Anyway, even with lots working abroad and the Polish economy itself in full swing, it is clear that Polish unemployment is bound to stay high for some time. After all, until a decade ago the agricultreal sector accounted for some 30% of employment, and the necessary scaling down of that number, due to EU-imposed rationalization, is not yet matched by sufficient job creation in industry and services. But, unlike their French counterparts, the Polish unemployed do not riot. They stubbornly keep looking for a job, bad paid or not, at home or abroad... and find it in due time.