Polish Society in the Perpective of Its Integration with the European Union

By Mucha, Janusz; Szczepanski, Marek S. | East European Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Polish Society in the Perpective of Its Integration with the European Union


Mucha, Janusz, Szczepanski, Marek S., East European Quarterly


IN THE EUROPEAN WAITING ROOM

A complete integration of Poland with the European Union, scheduled (in May 2001) for 2004, will undoubtedly be another momentous process in the country's history, after its withdrawal from the Soviet (and later Russian) sphere of interests and after the implementation of the rule of law and the Western-style civic liberties. These processes started twelve years ago. European integration can contribute to the final break with the, mostly economic and civilization, processes of "long duration," processes which, already at the end of the 15th century (the "long 16th century" in Fernand Braudel's terminology) gradually began to locate Poland on the Europe's peripheries. Those processes were strengthened by the political dependence, first in the form of partition among Russia, Germany and Austria (1772, 1775, and finally 1795) and later by the domination of the Soviet Union which lasted since 1944 for nearly half a century. The process of European integration is in the case of Poland (but also in the case of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia, to name the main regional candidates), simultaneous with the other process, that of systemic transformation toward liberal democracy and market economy. The successes in each of those two processes (taking place according to different rules, though) speed up the latter process, while failures of each contribute to the slowing down of another one.

It is worth noting that some countries which had belonged for at least two hundred years to the European peripheries, managed to improve their overall situation to a significant extent during the last fifty years. Although Spain and Portugal were not politically dependent on the other powers, Greece and Ireland were. Those four countries were accepted by the European Union (earlier--Community) mostly for political not economic reasons, but later on the membership in the Union gave them a chance for a considerable civilization advancement. On the eve of its access to the Union, Poland should compare itself with those four, and not with much better economically developed countries like Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, or England. Economic (particularly agri-cultural) problems that the former four had twenty years ago are similar to the problems Poland faces at present. It should be added that even the well developed European countries had, in the past, to cope with some conflict-generating problems which Poland faces nowadays, such as economic, social and cultural revival/reconstruction of the "old industrial regions."

CIVILIZATION BACKWARDNESS IN A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

In addition to the problems posed by traditional industrial regions and by agriculture, the basic problem of Poland on its way to the united Europe is its civilization "backwardness" (in terms of economy, technology, technical infrastructure, organizational and social infrastructure). Historically consolidated and subordinated to the rules of the "long duration," that backwardness has manifested itself for several centuries in a clear and unilateral adaptation of Polish economy to the demands of the better developed countries, regions, and even cities of Europe (like England, the Netherlands, the Hanseatic cities), and later of big continental organizations (European Community and then Union). Recently, for nearly fifty years, Poland had to adapt to the economic, structural and cultural system of the Soviet Union. The backwardness had also revealed itself in the too slow process of emergence of new social classes, particularly of the urban middle class (bourgeois) which--in the historical perspective--could have organized the economic growth and development and could have, therefore, helped depart from the mono-cultural economy and inefficient, in terms of variety, export of goods (like grain, timber, hem, and later on coal, copper and steal). In spite of political successes and a great liveliness of its symbolic culture, already in the 17th century Poland was, in comparison to the leading European powers, a backward country in terms of economy and civilization. …

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