Poland has a grim image thanks to decades of films and books about World War II ravaging and Soviet rule. One vaguely hears it’s changed, but the pride and prosperity that one finds in today’s Warsaw still surprises.
There are 24x7 bars, pasta is easier to find than traditional potato pancakes and musicians play in every square. The city centre has been restored to its historic beauty — and the pavements carry reproductions of 17th Cannaletto canvasses of the same streets as evidence.
Poland’s economy is chugging along even as Europe’s is rolling in reverse. Poles thank their stars they missed their deadline to adopt the euro. As important was the decision to tie their economy closely to that of Germany.
The changed attitude to Germany is noticeable. Says Wawrzyniec Smoczynski, foreign editor of Politka, “We don’t like to admit it, but today’s Pole wants to be like the German in terms of governance and wealth.”
Desis along the Vistula
There are only 4,000 Indians in Poland but the homeland’s investment here is about to hit $5 billion, says JJ Singh, head of the Indo-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This includes a recent billion dollar plus investment by U Flex of New Delhi. The call centre wallahs are here, but so are Tata Motors and Apollo Tyres.
Singh portrays Eastern Europe as the West without complications. Technology transfer rules are easier and regulations less complicated.
The few Polish firms who’ve ventured to India haven’t done badly. Obram, for instance, searched the net for contracts, stumbled on an Amul tender, and now the latter’s paneer in Gujarat comes off a Polish assembly line.
Poland is co-hosting the Euro 2012 football championships. For Poland it’s a coming out event, and the country has scrubbed itself accordingly.
Which is why a BBC documentary which had footballer Sol Campbell warning his dark-skinned comrades that going to Poland or co- hosts Ukraine could mean a return trip in “a coffin” infuriated Warsaw.
The truth is racial attacks in Polish cities are rare, but par for the course in Ukraine. The violence in the stands is limited to local fixtures, never international games. “And this from Britain, land of football hooligans,” grumbles one senior Polish diplomat.
But it underlines the struggle it has been for Poland to help Ukraine enter the European mainstream, a core foreign policy objective.
The Donald Tusk government is pushing, says Smoczynski, “for partners in other parts of the world”. One sign of Poland’s India push is the creation of a Centre for Contemporary India Research and Studies at the University of Warsaw.
China is a larger presence than India but loses the image game: Beijing’s Tiananmen Square butchery took place at the same time Poland held its first free polls. The contrast seared a negative image in Polish minds.
In contrast, India has become a topic of romanticised travel books by Polish writers and 20,000 Poles travel to India every year. The spirit of Max Mueller lives a little further east than it did in his day.