Your Country is Fucked: Revisiting Poland.

Angry Pole? Ohhhh. Not this kind of Pole.

You gotta' know, I do enjoy poking fun at people's national pride and our collective, anachronistic sensibilities regarding nationalism. I do it all in jest in the form of "Your Country is Fucked". YCF is an ongoing series that provides my glib attempt to briefly cover as much history, economics, religion, politics, ethnography, geopolitical strife, and other reasons why any given group of people inhabiting any given plot of Earth can take pride at how many times they've been fucked over, and what those people have overcome, and what future events are likely to fuck them over. Call it tough love and a great source of pride for the human race, to take repeated poundings and still come out on top: such as the Domican's horrifying history with slavery and "discovery", or the Uzbeks' interwoven (and painful) connection with their ancient Mongolian overlords, or the folly of Colonial tinkering in Africa.

Like the Doctor, I take exceptional pride in the amazing things that we humans can do, both good  and bad: our creativity and compassion, our propensity for inquistiveness and our seemingly-endless fascination with destroying one another. It's all part and parcel of the human condition. And, to my eyes, no where are all of these amazing traits more apparent than in studying a peoples' history. Hence, Your Country is Fucked.

All of the Doctors are proud of us....me too.

I don't pull this stuff out of my arse...although it would make researching it a tad easier. I rely on plenty of materials: The CIA Factbook, respective nations' own official sites and information, EU materials, scholarly materials, BB postings from residents there, and my own -not inconsequential- library of history; primarily materials from antiquity.

Source files...there are four more like this.

Nevertheless, sometimes I do get angry/indignant emails from nationals of these places who think mine is some encyclopedic attempt to correct the historical record, rather than pure satire and fact-based amusement (BTW: I discovered that Montanans do not like to be compared to any European nation, much less Finland. And, I also discovered that Slovenians will send death threats). But sometimes I get postings or emails that are cogent, coherent, thoughtful and expansive, such as the most recent one regarding "Your Country is Fucked: Poland". The anonymous author sets forth an empassioned plea for a more balanced view of Poland (although, I do think that I was exceptionally sympathetic to the Poles). It was so striking in its authority and tone, that I decided to give it top billing for today, and then we'll revisit Poland. See the commentor's post below, and the original Poland posting is here.

Schatten - number of issues with this article. I'm no expert but you should consider the following: (1) The stories of cavalry charging tanks are a myth. Many notable historians have dismissed these claims as a propaganda invention by the Nazis. (2) While you rightly point out some of the Poles' early triumphs, you should also remember that the Polish Commonwealth was the largest state in Europe for quite some time, it owned the Prussians (Germans) as vassals, it as the only nation to sack Moscow (twice), beat a million-strong Russian army in 1920 shortly after winnign independence after WWI, and is considered by many historians a a "savior of Europe" for Sobieski's protection of Vienna against the Islamic armies of the Ottomans. (3) The reason Poland was wiped off the map for 127 years is actually due to the Democratic tradition it shares with the US. ~3-4 years after the Americans introduced the first Constitution to the world, Poland followed with the second such document. As a result, three monarchies afraid of a spreading revolution invaded simultaneously from the west (Germans), east (Russians), and south (Austrians). Poland was carved up and suppressed for a century as a result. (4) the French never ruled Poland and in fact Napolean established the Duchy of Warsaw, giving the Poles a short-lived state during the partition period. Not sure what the post-WWI use of Poland as a dumping ground by Americans is supposed to allude to when it was Pres Wilson that made it one of his "Points" to re-establish the Polish nation. (5) The Poles have the most thriving economy in ALL of Europe. Read any article on the subject. The claims about trafficking, etc. can be made about any nation incuding the US (in the southwest) - every nation has its underbelly (6) The Polish joke was not created as a result of WWII. In fact at one point during the civil rights movement it became crude to label African-Americans as uneducated and supid. It became popular then to shift those stereotypes and labels to white immigrants at a time when Poles made up the majority of the immigrant population.

Without the Poles, Tatars would still be riding across Europe...not very Western in my opinion.

I'm not going to point-by-point this explication by, or get into a pissing contest with, a very thoughtful and knowledgeable reader. A great many of the points I made, and the entire thrust of the article really, was to discuss that the Poles are not a stupid people, and their contribution to Europe was largely overlooked by the exigencies of the 20th Century. Suffice it to say, I failed in that I did skip over the very important era of 1600-1800 CE, when the Poles were very much the bulwark of Europe. In that span, the Polish Empire beat back the Tatars and prevented the Ottoman Empire from sweeping over the rest of Europe...

Hell, Kalmyk Ottomans, with their cutlasses, wouldn't have been very European either...Thanks Poland!

That said, I do stand by much of the original: No matter what you term it, a Duchy is satellite, an independent sovereign but one nevertheless under another nation's sphere of influence. Hence, the French held such sway, and -for all intents and purposes- the U.S. and the Soviet Union played the same game after the fall of Germany in WWII*. Also, with respect to Poland's thriving economy, I don't think the CIA would lie to you or I. In fact, I trust the CIA wholly and totally...especially when they want to take you on a plane ride to Poland.**

Wheeee! Free CIA Pony Rides to Europe! And, yes, those "black sites" include Poland's notorious Szymany Airport.

Despite the rosy outlook painted by my thoughtful guest, I -and the rest of the world not involved in the stock market- are going to have to disagree: Poland's economy is hardly thriving, especially for the work-a-day Pole. Many of the nation's businesses are still nationalized (particularly the larger ones), and the unemployment rate hovers at a stultifying 19%. True, the nation has come out of the shell of Communism quite nicely, and has made great strides in 20 years, but make no mistake, this is hardly a stable economy. In addition to the staggering unemployment rate, nearly 80% of the nation's monetary supply are owned by foreigners. If investors panic and pull their funds from the banking system, Poland is deeply, deeply screwed in a way that will make the Asian crash of '98 look tame. And this doesn't even take into account that the currency, the zloty, has lost 50% of its value over the past year. Finally, even with a modest 1.1% GDP growth and increased consumer sales, don't expect any miracles (especially with a currency that shaky). Because, without credit modern markets cannot survive. Is credit avilable in Poland? According to the most recent economic report, hell no, not for at least another 9 months. As observed on Polish broadcasting: "One banker told me this week that they would not be lending until the second quarter next year. So bad things are still coming to Poland.” In other words, Poland is fucked.

There really remains then, that one sticking point...the Polish Cavalry.Yes, they were instrumental for most of Poland's martial history. And, yes, the cavalry emphatically were used against the German panzer divisions, albeit as infantry. It wasn't Nazi proganda, and it wasn't just made up. Hell, Poland even won a couple of major battles with their cavalry and definitely bloodied the Germans up a bit. I will leave you with this closing thought.

Polish cavalry moved using horses but fought using infantry tactics. The formation was equipped with machine guns, 75mm horse guns, 37mm Bofors anti-tank guns, a small number of Bofors 40mm anti-air guns and also the small number of anti-tank "Ur 1935" rifles. A cavalryman also had a sabre and a lance but these weapons were generally left with horses. The most effective battle of Polish cavalry was the Mokra battle, where the Wolynska cavalry brigade, supported with an armored train, stopped and caused big losses to 4th Panzer division (about 50 tanks and 500-800 troops).

Yep, it did happen...it was brave as all hell,and earns my praise for valor, but it did happen.

So, there you have it, Poland Redux: I have been sufficiently chastened on some points, provided additional resources for some of my positions, and I have clarified others. All in all, a productive day, and I thank the thoughtful Anon for his/her commentary and contributions.

Do you think I completely screwed the pooch with my analysis? Do you demand that I commit a public act of contrition? Or, have you taken me into your hearts as your overlord, and now wish to regale me with donations of designer drugs and soiled panties? Either way, email me at concave.scream@yahoo.com

* I mistyped...it's WWII that I was referencing when the US essentially threw their hands up and gave Poland to Russia.

** Sarcasm alert.


  1. Thank you for your further comments. My point on the cavalry was specific to the "cavalry charging tanks" - you are right that many battles were fought on horseback as the Poles preferred to fight on horseback against German footsoldiers. While you make a point to say PANZER division, implying again that Poles on horses charged tanks, in fact they attacked infantrymen on horseback and battled tanks with heavy artillery manned by soldiers on foot (using anti-tank Bofors and anti-tank rifles). In your link, the note from George Parada expresses the issue well and I thank you for including it. My one and only point on this issue: Poles did not charge tanks on horseback seeking to inflict damage with swords and small bullets.

    My point on the economy is of course a relative one - Poland has seen an incredible transformation since 1989 and today is one of the only economies in all of Europe that can boast positive GDP growth. Its growth has led to unemployment falling from the outdated 19% you cite to 10.7% as of June 2009(http://www.scribd.com/doc/19610834/Study-of-Polands-Economic-Performance-Q2-2009). Also, I am not sure what you mean by 80% of the monetary supply being owned by foreigners - bank ownership (which your linked article states is 80% owned by foreigners) and money supply are two very different things. Banks in Poland are regulated by both Poland and the EU so a money-supply disaster scenario cannot really result due to bank ownership (only due to currency crises, which I discuss below). Next, your privatization comment is a bit inaccurate as well and you can find some conrete facts in a recent WSJ article which describes how (1) Poland continues to privatize its state-owned companies (2) owns only $13B of pieces of various companies (much less than the US gov'tposition just in GM), and (3) its 20-year privatization effort is coming to a close next year (meaning all national stakes will have been sold by the end of 2010). (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125417294156447369.html) Furthermore, you point to the lack of credit in Poland but that implies that the credit freeze is specific to that country alone -in fact every nation on the planet is going through the exact same thing as Poland is confronting now - that is why in the US there is a dearth of mortgage activity, credit cards are pulling back after funding American eocnomic expansion for a decade, and financiers such as CIT, who is the largest small-business lender in the entire USA, are on the brink of bankruptcy and hindering American economic expansion. There is a reason why they call this a GLOBAL credit freeze, and not a Polish credit freeze (you can google "Global Credit Freeze" or "US Credit Freeze" for more on this. Finally, your description of the devaluation of the zloty also confuses me - as you can see on Yahoo finance, the zloty had a precipitous fall (as all developing economies did) in late 2008 but has recovered quite nicely - today, versus the USD, it stands at ~3 vs ~2.5 at Dec 2008 and ~2.7 in Oct 2008 (it has appreciated against the dollar from one year ago - defintely has not fallen 50% in value).

    In all, a great summary of Poland's attractiveness for investment can be found at this link, where after taking everything into account, E&Y ranks Poland as the #1 country in Europe in which to invest. http://www.neurope.eu/articles/87736.php. If you can access the report it is a good read.

    However regardless of the above I appreciate the fact that your posts are in good fun and that you do not mean to deprecate the countries that you feature. So please don't take my comments above as anything but clarifications for your viewers who may be a bit less familiar with these topics and who may be swayed into a negative mindset on the country as a result of your posts.

  2. I just noticed that one of your sources, the link to "this is hardly a stable economy," utilizes information from a travel website that was published in 2004 and has never been updated. A lot of things have changed since then (inluding Poland becoming the 18th largest economy in the world with a very low but quickly increasing GDP per capita, quite standard for developing nations - this implies, of course, a whole bunch of growth to come).

  3. Sorry but to expand further on the currency - I see your point may be that the zloty used to trade at 2.1 in Jun-2008 and now it trades at ~2.7 vs the USD. The thing to note there is that the USD itself was devalued terribly by the credit crisis in 2008 and currencies like the zloty held strong (ie proved to be extreemly stable and did not crash with the USD) - therefore, there was an appreciation on the part of the zloty due to weakness in the USD to ~2.1. As the USD came back, the zloty returned to its historical trading range of ~2.5, where it remains. This defintiely should not be interpreted as weakness in the zloty. Also, I see I said "appreciate" in my original post, should say "it has depreciated against the dollar from one year ago but definitely has not fallen 50% in value). I dont want to beat a dead horse (no pun intended per above on cavalry) but given so much of our conversation was on economy and currency I thought I'd throw this in :)

  4. Facts. Facts. They doom and damn you every time!

    As for the dollar: As soon as we go to the Petro-euro, all of us in the States will go back to subsistence farming, and the illusory economy we've built (finance, insurance, real estate) will collapse like Shiva trying to play jenga!

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