Poland under Transition and Its New Geography

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Transition from a centrally planned economy and a centralized state towards market oriented economy and democratic state with civil society, takes place in unique geographic circumstances. These circumstances include certain environmental conditions, demographic determinants of a country, political system (including administrative system with territorial subdivisions and level of decentralization of power and responsibilities), allocation of resources and spatial organization of economy. All these elements adjust paths of change and, at the same time, are being influenced by ongoing changes. As a result new political geography, economic geography and geography of population are being developed.

The goal of this article is to present the most important aspects of political and economic transformation in Poland and relate them to ongoing or potential future changes in Poland's geographic space. The selection of transformation's aspects was a subjective one and made from the perspective of potential influence on phenomena and processes in which geography is interested. It should also be mentioned that the influence of very complex political changes, which began in Poland in 1989, on geographic space is not entirely clear and cannot yet be fully evaluated. There are two reasons for this. The first one is the inertia of spatial structures. Even spectacular changes do not reflect immediately in physical space and spatial relations among different elements located in this space. The second reason is that transformation processes, especially the deep restructuring of economy and changes in social sphere, need more time to be completed or to move to more advanced stages. Thus, this article should be treated as an outline or intermediate description with some ideas on how transition is or will modify the geography of Poland.

II. POLAND-BASIC FACTS

Poland-area: 312,667 sq. km; population: 38.8 million (1994); located on the Baltic Sea (524 km long coastline), bordering with the Kaliningrad region of Russia, and with Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine in the east (1244 all four borders), Czech and Slovak Republics in the south (1310 km border) and Germany in the west (460 km border). The country's major cities include Warsaw, Bialystok, Bydgoszcz, Czestochowa, Gdansk, Gdynia, Katowice, Krak6w, L6di, Lublin, Poznan, Szczecin, Torufi, Wroclaw; urbanisation rate62%.

The country is largely low-lying plain, except in the south, which includes the Carpathian and Sudeten Mountains and the Malopolska Hills. Poland's main rivers, the Vistula, Oder, Warta and Western Bug, are connected to the Baltic Sea. There are many lakes, especially in the northeast part of the country (Mazury District). Poland has three important Baltic ports: Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin and a dense rail network.

The climate of Poland is transitional one and is shaped by air masses that come from six different areas and directions. Generally Poland's climate is influenced by a continental climate from the east and a maritime climate from the west. As a result, the weather is changeable with significant differences from year to year.

About 50% of Poland's land is arable and 33% is forested. Agriculture is mostly privately run and was even left private during the Communist years. It accounts for 15% of the gross national product and occupies about 25% of the work force. Generally self-sufficient in food Poland's main crops are rye, potatoes, beets and wheat.

Poland is relatively rich in natural resources. The chief minerals produced are coal, sulfur, copper, lead, and zinc. The country's leading manufactures include machinery, iron and steel products, chemicals. Industry, which has been state controlled, began to be privatized in the early 1990s. Prices were freed, subsidies were reduced and Poland's currency (Polish zloty) was made internally convertible as the country began the difficult transition to a free market economy. …