Consequences of privatisation in Poland

Poland, like all countries of Eastern Europe, is a special case. Before 1989, its economy was in the hands of the state. It was a very undeveloped economy, characterised by a lack of control as well as deficits of many needed products, behind in its technological development. Its processes were characterised by huge investments, a predominance of big firms employing many thousands of workers. The privatisation that unfolded in 1989 in many cases led to bad consequences. The property of the state was sold to private firms for nothing, as it was said in slang, for hot zlotys. Many essays were written about this sell-out of our state patrimony to foreign firms.

The effects of this policy turned out to be catastrophic. The new owners spent away the assets, and often enough liquidated the firms they had bought. There developed in Poland huge unemployment, which at this point still is at 20 percent.

Rather characteristic of this is the fate of Polish media. Not so few of them were bought out by foreign media companies. In the hands of the state, there remained only 4 television programmes and regional branches thereof, as well as three radio stations and their regional branches. Almost all Polish newspapers, which formerly used to belong to the state, were bought up in whole by German companies like Springer and Neue Passauer Presse or the Swedish firm Orkla, which two years ago, however, sold its publishing house to the English investment fund Metz. The lack of resolute action by Polish journalists, who were only weakly organised in trade unions, led to unnecessary firings. Many editorial teams lost about half of their membership. The companies preferred in the journalist profession young, uninformed and uneducated persons easy to manipulate whom it was possible to pay only little and whom it was possible to exploit from morning to night. Disposing of the better educated and informed Polish journalists stood dearly to the Polish journalist profession. The world as shown in the media became one of chaos impossible to explain. This had consequences of course on the educational level of our society.

Yet, that was only the beginning. In former times, each Polish region used to have two or even three regional papers. Many of them had a history of at least half a century and were written in the form of regional chronicles that served as a great source of information for local historians. The foreign companies oriented towards profit and of course did not care to cultivate these local traditions. The regional newspapers were liquidated, leaving at most one paper per region. Many journalists of regional affiliates once and for all lost their employment as journalists.

The sale of the state Telecommuncation Agency to the French firm Alcatel led to a considerable rise in phone prices, because this firm could permit itself to charge monopoly prices being the only provider of such services on the whole territory. Moreover, the company acquired the business of organising and charging for access to the Internet. Lately, the remains of state control over the economy have forced Alcatel to renounce to some of its charges incompatible with Polish law. In spite of this, the prices that Alcatel still asks for access to the Internet are the highest in Europe, especially if compared with the generally low earnings of the Polish people. Only 37 percent of Poles have Internet at home as compared to 53 percent of French people.

Almost 97 of water conducts have remained in the hands of the state. However, there where water conducts were sold to foreign private firms, water prices shot up considerably. For instance, two years ago in Dąbrowa Górnicza, the regional authorities paid 3.6 mln. zlotys to RWE ltd. so that this firm would not increase prices to quite the extent it had planned. They did not succeed in getting rid of the contract they had concluded, however, because rescinding it would have cost them 50 mln. zlotys in severance dues. In Glogow, the German firm Gelsenwasser not only raised prices several times, but fired part of the workforce.

It seems that the state, for long years now dominated by advocates of neoliberal economics, will carry out the premeditated ruin of public services which are easy to sell given there is no resistance from the side of the population. The most revolting case is the health service, whose privatisation from the beginning on was recommended by part of the government. The majority of hospitals is very indebted. For visits to the specialists, expert advices or life-saving operations, as in the case of cancer, it is often necessary to wait for months. The National Health Insurance often refuses payment for the most expensive and most effective medication for a given illness. It is not surprising that in Poland there is the largest mortality from cancer in the whole of Europe.

In the health services, there are frequent strikes, because the physicians and nurses ask for an increase in their salaries. These strikes have quite often already led to the evacuation of whole sections of hospital. And the Physicians Trade Union that organises these strikes in its demands always asks for the privatisation of the health services. This situation is a legendary case for the undermining of public services.

But there is more, the state section of the postal services slated for privatisation is in its death throes. Letters arrive at their recipients with two weeks delay, which causes terrible hardships in our daily lives, where letters are often linked with money transfers. On occasion of the last strike, many letters were lost, and what still arrived with a certain probability were mostly advertisement mailings. This situation can hardly become worse.

The state railroads are in desperate shape. During the last years, many tracks were abandoned. The stations are ruined; the trains are old and dirty. In winter, the heating is often defective; in summer you can hardly bear the heat, because the climatisation is not working. Because tracks are not repaired, it is possible to travel faster on many tracks than a couple of years ago; but because of the increased speed many, especially high-speed trains are threatened by ctastrophe. The situation is paradoxical to the point that it is often faster to get somewhere by normal train than by a high-speed train. As a result, tickets have also risen in price over the whole board.

Aside from train service, there still operates the state bus service, but the outer aspect of the bus stations is terrible. They haven't been repaired since the time of the Polish People's Republic.

The policy of the various governments, also those inclined to the left, in my opinion has led to the ruin of state services. In particular, they were never reformed to function better and more effectively. From the time of the Polish People's Republic, there remains the custom not to invest in public services at all, but to exploit them until they drop. Nowadays that makes them even easier to privatise, because the dissatisfied, but weak population is incapable to stand up in its defense. The only exception may be the health services, because Poles are resisting private hospitals and are resolutely protesting against the introduction of even modest fees for visits to the doctor.

Ewa Ziółkowska

Referat na seminarium nt. prywatyzacji podczas ESU w Saarbrucken, www.european-summer-university.eu


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