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Poland: Meet Your Next-Door Neighbor

Poland – 6th biggest country in the European Union of 25, the biggest amongst 10 new entrants of May 2004. Here in the 1980′, after many previous attempts, began the democratic wave that went across the Soviet Union-satellite countries, a wave that eventually smashed the communist regime that the Central & Eastern Europe had lived under since World War II.

In what way is the past affecting the modern way of thinking? Read to find out.


Although the old regime eventually collapsed almost 20 years ago, Poland has not fully managed to leave its past behind and turn towards the future. In 1989 the term “communist” was erased from the Polish politically-correct vocabulary. Any reference to anyone as “communist” is still considered highly offensive. A word worth remembering is “lustration”; not to be found in any English dictionary, the term describes the practice in post-communist countries of exposing those who collaborated with the former regime and barring them from public office. Lustration news still makes it to the front pages of Polish nationwide newspapers.


Poles are proud to have brought freedom to the Central and Eastern Europe again, as they like to think. Pride goes hand in hand with deception, as many a man fighting against the communists were expecting the country’s public life to heal immediately as a result of the collapse of the communist regime. With a 5% economic growth in 2006 Poland is often referred to as a driving force of the EU economy, nevertheless businessmen find Polish taxes excessively high and point to the complicated bureaucratic procedures as impediments to a full economic success.


To bring about changes or freedom under any regime you have to fight and actually oppose the authorities. The whole idea of fighting against the authorities and decisions made at a governmental level is deeply rooted in the Polish national awareness. It goes back to a 125-year nonexistence of the Polish state divided between its three neighbors as a result of three partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century. At that time authorities equaled oppressors, and Poles through several uprisings and every-day life showed their strong opposition.


Historically Poles united and cooperated only faced with crisis. At a time of peace they tended to show an attitude that could be summed up in the following way: “There are as many different opinions as there are people”. This can still be seen in the political arena.


Under the previous regime Poles did not have to worry about such things as finding or keeping a job. In fact, it was every citizen’s right to have a job, and the authorities’ responsibility to make people keep it, as there could be no unemployment in a communist country. The state made sure that people’s basic needs would be satisfied, which taught people that there would always be someone to care for them. For this very reason so many of them had troubles readjusting to the new economic reality after the collapse of the communist system. Unsure how to “sell themselves”, people tended to underestimate their skills during job interviews rather than exaggerate.


Some Poles find it difficult to discuss money-related issues or financial problems. Sociologists put it down to the times when there could be no inequalities in people’s financial standing. Of course, in the business environment you simply have to discuss money-related issues, still the ease of talking about money depends on the age and the family background.


Culture was less oppressed in Poland than in other countries under the communist regime; Poles have always enjoyed greater freedom in this field than any other satellite state. However, with the iron curtain in place for almost half a century people felt recluse and considered everything coming from abroad as potentially best. That’s why, faced with foreigners, Poles usually insisted on proving they’re not worse by showing they are up to date and well-educated. Traces of this behavior can still be seen, especially when dealing with the older generation.


The whole system of education was free under the communist regime. Generally, the youth would go to university and get their degree. The level of state-provided education was very good. Nowadays, the private sector of education is blooming, still public universities rank top. Poles love education, yet surprisingly teaching as a profession does not come at the top of jobs that parents most want for their children. It is probably due to the fact that teachers in public schools are generally underpaid.


Ability to sue was always considered a sign of a good financial standing and a way of proving that all citizens have equal rights. No matter how dear it is in civil cases, most people consider litigation as a means of getting their case solved by an objective judge. The idea of taking responsibility for their own conflicts is still quite new to most Poles, despite the fact that mediation was introduced to the penal law in 1997, and to civil and commercial law in 2005.


Poles have always thought of themselves as westerners, so in the new political & economic reality they picked up the western negotiating style. Nowadays they usually go straight to the business. However, when dealing with middle-aged people it is advisable to spend some time building the relationship.


Punctuality is a well-known virtue amongst Polish businessmen. Some foreigners think, however, that Poles have troubles concerning time-management. If you attend a conference, don’t be surprised to hear speeches twice as long as scheduled. At the beginning of negotiations or a simple business meeting it is wise to spend some time drafting the agenda and defining time-limits.

I hope I gave you a set of tools to better understand Poland today. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them.


Anna M. Wróbel

Anna M. Wróbel Anna is a member of the Polish Center for Mediation. She is an active mediator, negotiator and facilitator with wide experience of the Polish market and business environment. Anna's areas of expertise include group & organizational conflicts, multicultural conflicts, international & home business, family, automotive industry and telecommunications.… MORE >

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