Monday, 31 August 2009

For the first time...

In my life I’m living through the exploration of Polish history of 1939. During the twelve year long period of my school education, the first day of September has usually been the day of inevitable and often unwanted comeback to school. Now, as tomorrow there will be the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2, I’m trying to get the sense of the everyday life in Poland in the days war hung by a thread.

I have two main feeling about those days and their heroes. Firstly – sympathy, as they were facing up to inescapable, many of them knew they were doomed to live under occupation, fight, die. Secondly – I’m sincerely grateful I don’t have to live seventy years ago. I’m truly happy that tomorrow there will be another peaceful day, not the one which would go down in history as the moment when the biggest war in the world’s history began. I’m grateful I have the comfort to have no idea about the quandaries and dilemmas the generation born in the late 1910’s or early 1920’s had.

All my problem seem diminutive compared to theirs, in fact they are incomparably smaller. But my generation, with no remembrance of PRL, grew up in the 1990’s and 2000’s has a totally different common mindset and as a result goals and priorities. We will not have to pay the ultimate price, we are proudly taking part in a rat race, chasing the new opportunities, grasping new challenges and too often forget about the essence in our endless quest for dough, success, accolades, prestige. Sometimes I think we don’t know why and what for we are here…

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The shape of the (past?) recession

As almost all the media jauntily proclaimed the end of the deepest post-war recession, those more down-to-earth are trying to foretell the most probable scenario of the upcoming rebound. Almost everyone, with Ben Bernanke on the fore, sees future in the bright colours, without even glancing at the foundations underlying the frail world economy. The most substantive article on the recovery can be found in the last week’s issue of “The Economist”. There, as the parallels are drawn, the sceptical journalists make an attempt to foretell the near future, basing their predictions on the facts, not only good moods. As they point out, there are three most possible scenarios of the revival, for which stand the three consecutive letters of the alphabet – U, V and W.

U – is the most unlikely to happen (contrary to the article!). The shape of the GDP chart should resemble more a bowl, than an ‘U’ letter, what illustrates the sharp decline, followed by relatively long (one and a half year as I suppose) period of diminished economic activity and later a rebound – here the whole part of the cycle lasts longer and takes place rather gently, what does not have to mean less painfully.

V – is what optimists see – the economics indicators have been plummeting for quarters, the scale of contraction was huge and this ought to be reflected in the rebound (as the stock exchanges have already anticipated). This picture is relatively simple, not to say oversimplified and seem to be drawn without a deeper look at the state of affairs of leading economies and merrily omits some data, described below

W – is what I’ve leant towards (currently I’m at loss) looking at some other alarming factors. Take into account worsening banks’ credit portfolios, the number of bad debts, ticking time bomb of unpaid credit cards, decline in investment activity of the companies, tightened creditworthiness criteria, rising (also seasonal) unemployment, job insecurity. In the world I would add boosted by speculators oil prices and still high write-offs made by banks worldwide. Hang on, you can read about it in the press (e.g. Gazeta Wyborcza) almost every day, but those news which herald the glum scenario are outshined by the euphoric visions with no room for such harbinger…

The theory of second wave is still within the realms of possibility, moreover, unsustainable and rapid growth would seriously endanger the recovery. I don’t take pleasure in being a prophet of doom, but the key issue in dealing with critical situations is being prepared for the worst. I sincerely hope that as the economists claim the worst is over and personally I’d rather see a tick-mark recession than a V-shape – I want the growth to be even modest, but sustainable and based on sound foundations.

Finally, our prime minister and minister of finance boasted about the recent figures of Poland’s GDP growth in the second quarter, surprisingly high and the nest in the EU. Good for them that they didn’t succumb to the pressure from the opposition and held off on increasing government spending. For me they should take more hard-line stance – do not yield to the brinkmanship of trade unions, lobbyists, politician in the privileged position of being not in power, what means being able to pull the ruling party up for all deeds and misdeeds and telling “we would do it better”. Why are they so complacent? In fact their biggest merit is that they did so little and managed to resist from tinkering with the economy. In our country the growth was worked out by our bare hands, not by the massive stimulus packages, in Poland politicians didn’t have to resuscitate the corpse, our economy rode out the biggest slump in its post-1989 history alive and did not shrink. Why? Weak zloty, rather high consumer confidence, lack of quick government’s reaction?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Czwarty Czerwca

The title of the book I read last Sunday – going through the 260 pages long paperback took me a bit more than two hours. Reading a book from cover to cover is usually doable when it grabs your attention and you can submerge yourself in the content. This one, written by Joanna Szczepkowska (the Polish actress famous for announcing the end of the communism in Poland) is an outline of her memories of living in People’s Poland.

With some conflicting feelings about the content, I hail the book as readable, gripping and all in all rather well-balanced. At the beginning my approach to the work was rather negative. The first years of Szczepkowska’s life were presented in rather one-sided and selective way. Picture was kind of gloomy – Labour Day parades, the rally in front of the Palace of Culture after Gomułka took over power, moral dilemmas and bickering over the system between her parents. Here the balance is already struck – mother is shown as a hard-line anti-communist figure, father does not support the system but tries to get by in it, hammering out as much freedom as possible without incensing the party dignitaries. Actress’ adolescent years are described as a series of events depicting the evil of communism – forbidden religion classes, children telling on one another, cracking sounds of drowned out Radio Wolna Europa, schoolmate proud of her father taking part in military intervention in Czechoslovakia, events from March 1968, one history taught officially, another passed on at home. The facts to describe were chosen rather selectively, but along the timeline world from black and white takes on the variety of all the shades of grey.

In 1969 an insurgent who fought in Warsaw Uprising pays visit to her parents. His story bears testimony of the big bravery, but as he leaves the flat young Szczepkowska challenges him by telling him what she had heard at school – that the Uprising had been a mistake. He admits, but signifies he’s afraid to said it aloud as everyone who says so is thought to be an Ubek.

In the early seventies actress-to-be flies to France for a theatre festival – here’s where a reader sees what the socialism was – not only lack of free speech, omnipresent lies, political prisoners, etc, but also backwardness. Students from France in colourful outfits making laugh at the poor student from behind the Iron Curtain.

Further comes the delineation of struggling the system, making concessions, fighting for the rights of people, joy with the foundation of Solidarity movement, later on the shock of Martial Law and the subsequent years of gloom. The chapter of 1983 is followed by the one of 1988 – an annoying gap for me. In the last passages the system is already falling apart, the Solidarity elites are divided into the one in favour of carrying on clandestine activity and blowing the system up and the one who incline towards talks with the ruling party. Szczepkowska is for give and take, Szczepkowska does not try to model herself on a person with a anti-communist biography – she was only flesh and blood, she had the moments of weakness.

The very last part is a detailed description of the recording of Dziennik telewizyjny, when she uttered the famous sentence “Ladies and gentlemen, on 4th June, 1989, the communism in Poland came to an end". As I watched the very short fragment of it, I could resist the impression of unnaturalness and theatrical gesture made by the actress – my right, but the fact it was not broadcast live and was not edited out by the censors symbolised the ultimate decay of the socialism – although the party still kept public broadcaster in a grip, the days of communists in power were numbered.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The newer ways of stigmatising

Browsing through the forum for the dissatisfied with the quality of the telecom services, I stumbled upon a comment from a man dividing his friends into callable and not callable… “I mark the people who have their numbers in Play with a star, so that I know who I shouldn’t call if I don’t want to go bankrupt”.

The fourth operator, as it was entering the market in 2007 was granted quite favourable decisions on MTR from the regulator. The discrepancy in inter-operator settlements was justified by the fact Play would have to build its own infrastructure from scratch and by the undeniable truth its offer would boost the competition on the market of mobile services.

The first argument could be disproved – not every entity starting up can get the special terms for conducting the business (apart from tax relieves, etc.), if somebody decides to take the chance and puts a lot of money into a dicey undertaking, they must analyse the competitors’ potential and costs of underselling to convince the clients of the competitor to vote with their feet. The most effective way of drawing new customers is bringing down the prices – so the onset of its activity was marked with the cheap rates and simple pre-paid and post-paid plans, meant to signify its advantage over the “big three”. The bigger price war was sparked off by Play in March 2009, as the operator marked its second birthday with a new pre-paid offer. The new service is not rendered below the costs, but the home truth is that the revenues of the operator come mostly from inflated termination rates. The other operators have thus reason to detest Play. Not only for the sake that more and more of the aware clients ditch them and take their numbers away to Play, causing the operators’ yields to drop. Those are not the termination rates, that’s the crippling price war, in case of three settled mobile providers hitting their balance sheets, in case of the fourth one not letting it break even. From the theory of economics we should know in the long run the price war doesn’t have to be advantageous, even for the customers. The initiator of the fight might be unable to carry the burden of dumping prices and go bust, the other firms on the market may follow suit, so the situation that only the stronger businesses won’t pull out of the market is likely to take place. Moreover, this may lead to a monopolisation of a market. In Poland Play successfully broke the oligopoly set up by “big three” to keep up a fictional competition.

The second argument is backed up by the welfare of the customers. On the market with the barriers to entry the external regulation is often essential to ensure the consumer protection. Play did manage to change the mobile telecom market in Poland. It still has the lead in the stats concerning number transfers and the number of new clients. The price to pay for the rest who stayed with the older operators comes out on their bills or accounts whenever they decide to call a Play user. The rates range currently from 0,72 to 0,80 zloty. In many networks the basic flat rate is currently 0,29 zloty. When looking at termination rates one could see a certain disparity. If the TR for all old operators is 0,1677 zloty and for Play 0,4047 zloty, how big should the rate for calls to Play be? A short calculation tells us it should be 0,70 zloty, so the operators get the extra margin for calls to Play. Many people, conscious of it, were put off by the exorbitant costs of chats with the Play-using fellows.

When taking a decision to transfer my number to Play I deliberately chose to fork out 50 zloty at the time and retain the prefix 608 belonging to another operator. Aside from avoiding the chaos of notifying everyone about the new number I could also avoid comments like “I’ll be paying more for calls to you”. I told those of my friends whose calls to me tend to last more than a quarter, but it never became to them an obstacle to call me if they wanted to talk. I sometimes offered calling back and they took up on it, as the costs of the same call was for me three times lower than for my interlocutor.

The crucial factor for me is the huge amount of perks, special offers, minutes and messages for free, bonuses I get from Play, thanks to which I can spend around twenty five zloty monthly on my phone, instead of over sixty a year ago with the previous operator. I sometimes mind the fact someone pays over the odds, but its their decision to flounder in the clutches of an operator which rips them off. But if you really are so petty to divide your friends into cheap-to-call and expensive-to-call you’re a penny-pitcher! If you don’t feel like paying, ask to call back, you’ll save on your phone bill, but first you’ll have to overcome the embarrassment…

Friday, 21 August 2009

Beneficiaries and losers of Polish transition of 1989

Every revolution eats its children – the adage proved true by the fate Vladimir Ilyich Lenin met in the early twenties could also be substantiated by the calamity of Law and Justice party in the elections of 2007. The Polish transition of 1989 in its economic respect was also a revolution, but this one took place as an evolution, tough, full of sacrifices, turning many spheres of the social life, reducing some of the Poles to the beggars, meanwhile letting the others grow from rags to riches. The changeover, known as Plan Balcerowicza, was the unprecedented attempt to bring the central planned economy onto the market economy, what meant the presumptive results and spin-offs were almost unpredictable. I have to pay homage to the architect of the operation, he showed a utmost bravery by taking up the drafting and execution of the plan, still bearing in mind how difficult it would and how many grudges would some Poles hold against him. The latter statement is of note if we recall catchwords like “Balcerowicz musi odejść” (EN: Balcerowicz has to leave) and the likes (here Balcerowicz can be seen as a victim of his reforms as he took the fall for their ramifications). I can speak highly of him as of the governor of the central bank, but on the flip side I cannot forget about his dogmatism and oversimplified prescriptions for economic problems. Free market is like democracy – nothing better has been figured out and it’s not downside-free. Self-regulating mechanism do not have to reach the equilibrium every time they are facing shocks, so I am calling for more pragmatism.

The person of Balcerowicz is not the core of my today’s reflections. Following the previous post I take the liberty to outline the mark left by the implementation of market economy.


1) Small entrepreneurs – to quote Balcerowicz it was the biggest success – over a million of self-proprietors, small entrepreneurs, pioneers of fledging capitalism. Many of those businesses went bust, but many turned profitable and their founders are millionaires today. And the stalls put up on fairs, pavements, roadsides are probably etched in our memories as a landmark of the early nineties…

2) All the group which were granted several privileges during the martial law, in the eighties or during the transformation – uniform services’ employees, miners, customs officers, trade unionists, former members of PZPR – they all enjoy not only living in a free and democratic country but also excessive privileges of early retirement, high benefits, job security and so they retain the pick of the previous system.

3) Young, ambitious, go-ahead, clever, determined, add a few more adjectives to this list and you will get the portrait of Poles born in the late sixties who entered their adulthood twenty years ago – they got the unrepeatable chance and many of them knew how to not to waste it. Today they are at the top, they do not have to worry about financial security, their children lead the problem-free life. Many of instead of politics focused on “grilling” and enjoy the time of their lives.

4) International corporations which entered unsaturated market of Poland and built their structures here. Their advance to Poland was a race against time – the ones that found a gainful market niche hit the ten, for many of them Poland, country on the make is a dreamt-up cash cow.

5) The… Should I call it “układ”? There is a grain of truth in it – the last group consisted of the ones who set themselves up where the politics and business met. That was where the great deals could be made. Prosecutors carry out the investigations on some of the privatisation transactions, in some cases the truth will never come to the light – but hundreds of folks benefited from it without remorse, although in fact they had been stealing away the national property. What belonged to the state was built with the hands of its citizens – so factories, plants, etc. were not no-man’s property.


1) Ordinary people who went through an ordeal of inflationary spiral, job insecurity, worsening living standard – that was tough but necessary.

2) Employees of PGRs – collective farms. Under the Plan Balcerowicza all farms were liquidated within a few months. The vast majority of farms were unprofitable and were the great example of “moon economy”. Inefficient, obsolete are now considered the relic of those times. The people once fired in the 1990 or 1991 descended into durable joblessness, many of them got addicted to alcohol. Those losers are irrevocably in the point of no return, however, their habits and attitude will be inherited by their children and the chances to cure the disease are diminutive…

3) The long-term structural unemployed, in simple words the ones, whose qualifications do not fit the employers’ requirements. Usually laid off from wound down factories, unskilled, or semi-skilled, maladjusted to the economy partly ruled by the law of jungle, with computer illiteracy, who do not speak foreign languages, unable to adapt to challenging work environment. Quite often immobile, the stay where they had been born and where they had lived for all their lives. This often means that demand on workforce in Warsaw does not meet the disproportionate supply on province…

4) All the ones who profited from the absurdities of the previous system. The ladies selling meat under the counter, clerks corrupted for making favourable decisions, the ones who had a cushy “czy się stoi, czy się leży, dwa tysiące się należy” (EN: no matter if you stand or lie, you deserve to be paid two thousand) job of putting the papers from one pile to another.

5) For Moherowe berety see he post below…

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Pushed around, ridiculed, degraded?

Not yet, though you might say the group is dying away, it can’t be dismissed… Who am I writing about? Approximately the group I’m describing numbers about two million of stalwart, steadfast supporters of the media empire of a prominent Redemptorist and of a certain right wing party which won the election in 2005.

You’re right – the legendary Moherowe Berety are going to have a post on them on my not yet legendary blog. Pity that probably none of them will ever read it and I’ll never see a comment left by one of them like “cosmopolitan traitor of the Polish nation paid by the Jewish forces of evil in conspiracy with Gazeta Wyborcza and TVN 24 mocks at the heart of Polishness”. But you’re wrong if you assume I’m going to ridicule them, I just want to put them under a microscope, that’s the goal.

source: Gazeta Wyborcza

The term to my surprise was first used in October 2004, not long before they became really famous after the elections of 2005 when they were reckoned to clinch the victory of Lech Kaczyński as a president and his party in parliament – against all odds and against the pools. In the voting which borne testimony of Poles’ disillusion with democracy they emerged as a group which supported the certain party, politicians and vision of our country. Soon they were mentioned in parliamentary debate by Donald Tusk who pointed at them as at the social group backing the minority government of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. At the beginning old ladies took umbrage at the term, but in a little while they started taking pride in being a part of a no longer dismissed community. The contempt for them, held by the youngsters led up to the humorous action initiated before elections in 2007 – “Zabierz babci dowód” (EN: take away your grandma’s ID). The jocose campaign, resulting from their active participation in the previous voting was intended to encourage young voters to take matters into their hands rather than treating it seriously. However, I disapproved a bit of it – ladies in berets are also a part of civic society and have a right to cast a ballot and have a right to vote for whoever they want. They other story is that I would do everything to mobilise the rest of the electorate to go to the polls in order to outvote them.

As I recall in 2006 all the leftist and liberal media were taking a peek of that group, examining and exploring it inside out. What they turned up was indeed nothing startling but brought to the social awareness the picture of a person quite often forgotten, demeaned, neglected. Not many people realised such elderly women were around us, trying hard to scrape along on their benefits, going every day to church, in their excessive free time listening to Radio Maryja, united in the family under the umbrella of “father director”. They all have one common denominator – they got lost in high-pace Poland rapidly developing after the transition of 1989. The society has been moving forward, embracing the western lifestyle, values, fads, but they couldn’t conform to the changing country. Tight with money, afraid to visit supermarkets, reluctant to relish on modern technical devices they were the possibly most unattractive target customers for the advertisers. Meanwhile the group, growing in number, gathered around the radio station of Tadeusz Rydzyk, where they had the opportunity to feel a sense of community, where they could get in touch with the people like them – also lonesome, lost, conservative, religious. The cause was good, but the business made on it – hang on... The listeners are brainwashed, they put stock in everything what “father director” says, with two major implications – firstly it’s their endowment for the media empire, foundation, etc. Those poor people each month after they get their pension or benefit head for the nearest post office to order a remittance to their spiritual leader. Secondly they emanate the hatred. In the first case it’s their naivety – they’re really besotted, manipulated, they believe in the good cause. The second goes in turn to my ‘beyond comprehension’ filing cabinet – how does it go together with the Christian teaching of the love to the fellow men? One of the most common picture from their annual rallies are the footages by TVN – the members of Radio Maryja Family shouting out at the journalist and cameraman of the liberal station – “Jewish envoys, embodiments of the evil”. In such way they were set against the enemies by their spiritual leader. Their stance stems directly from the fear of the unknown and manifests itself in such feats like tagging “Jews, liberals” all the ones who dare to dissent.

Their round-ups were regularly attended by politicians from Law and Justice, the most famous speeches were made by Jarosław Kaczyński. Two years ago he declared “the Poland is here” (PL: Polska jest tutaj) – as some hostile media took in the round-up spot was the last piece of the free Poland – who raided the rest of our country? This year former prime minister endorsed the new business – mobile telephony set up in affiliation with father Rydzyk. The rates compared to the ones offered by the competitors come out poorly, the allegedly user-friendly handset sold by the operator is three times more expensive than a basic phone in a supermarket and is produced on a Russian license – in a word the next scam, but the loyal followers will fall for it.

I feel sorry for them – lost, manipulated, full of hatred, intently seeking the way to give vent to their negative emotions, regrets, grief… All in all it’s just distressing…

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Quo vadis SGH?

Totally out of the blue, almost three weeks ago, on 22 July the Senate Curriculum Commission congregated and… I don’t know if unexpectedly, but passed a resolution on the changeover in the curriculum of Bachelor’s and Master’s studies (I start the latter in October so the reforms will affect me). The heated discussions about the direction my university should evolve have been held in public for months and the next step was just the par for the course, but… But I somehow deluded myself that the bureaucracy-stricken structure of my school would put off implementation of the reform, all in all it didn’t happen. Sadly I can only fall in with the scholars, students and other members of our academic community who disapproved of the drafts of changes, claiming Warsaw School of Economics was drifting towards a vocational school. So once again I sympathise with the ones who call out Nie róbcie z SGH zawodówki!.

The modification of the curriculum can’t be rather categorised as common-sense-based. The course of studies in the academy of economics which has pretences to be a member of elite and wants to compete with the best schools of economics abroad can be simplified in the way it is being done. Why were the advanced micro- and macroeconomics erased from the curriculum of Master’s studies? Is the managerial economics going to substitute for it? What was the main reason for crossing out specified specialisations from the curriculum? Should we pick the lectures on our own, yes, this is the step towards more freedom, but how about the specialisation note which appears on the diploma?

On Bachelor’s studies the changes will take a heavy toll on the knowledge of the graduates. Just take a first glance. Even in the times of communism, when Warsaw School of Planning and Statistics was called a “Red Fortress” (PL: Czerwona Twierdza), the distinguishing mark of the school was teaching two foreign languages on relatively high level. The current graduates of BA studies had to go through five semester long course of “language I” (the candidates are expected to have the command of this language on B2 level) and six semester long course of “language II” (here candidates should be on B1 level). The quality of teaching and all the stereotypes linked to it are the topic for the separate endless post, but let’s focus on the shot in foot, which is cutting down the length of both courses to four semester. Altogether 180 learning hours less than before! And the grasp of languages represented by students of SGH, although relatively good still leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless the command of two languages has given us the edge over the graduates of other universities. Why do the authorities want to take away one of our assets? The students will have the opportunity to carry on learning under the pool of learning hours and credit system, maybe it will be better to let them take the matters into their own hands? Why aren’t some courses like sociology or economic history compulsory. The proponents of the reform pointed out they’re not necessary or the students should have been given more freedom in making choices. After two years which elapsed since I’ve completed those courses I have conflicting feeling – many freshmen students find those lectures tedious and superfluous and treat as a ball and chain on their way to career and here we reach the heart of the matter – graduates of the prestigious Warsaw School of Economics should apart from strictly professional knowledge have broad mind, horizons, during their studies they should develop the passion to explore and the habit of critical looking at economic phenomena from different perspectives, taking into account psychology. A modern-day economist is not just a mathematician whose over-reliance on models and patterns leads up to bungled forecasts, it’s rather an open-minded person who has a thorough understanding of psychology, social factors influencing the economy, historical background which underlies some stances and be aware of many more things, unlike the callous traders closed in the dealing room who lump together Poland and Hungary when it comes to financial stability of both countries.

I don’t want my school to churn out graduates lacking general education. Narrow-minded people as far as I observed are more likely to try to outwit the others when it comes to financial matters and are more likely to be ignorant of obvious phenomena – they also led to the current crisis, they fuelled stock bubbles disregarding fundamental factors and elementary laws of economics. The two excellent examples of something what was missed out on are LTCM and the current investment results of Superfund (hedge fund managed by computer system operating on the basis of econometrical model)

For a conclusion – do the today’s drop-offs on stock exchanges herald the deeper correction? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised…

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Do men need to be praised?

One of those questions smacking on the stereotype we are from Mars, they are form Venus… Males and females are said to perceive everything in a different way, from hues and saturations of colours to remarks aimed at them. It might be a matter of cultural background, upbringing, self-esteem, ego, complexes, or just going over the top with praising…

Today, while having a rest after an arduous week and lying on my terrace with the headphones on my ears I listened to the notorious broadcast in Radio Pogoda. This time it wasn’t as stupid and intolerable as usually, today’s discussion was really up to the point, but the man portrayed by the journalists turned out to be a clumsy midget who wants the others, mostly his partner to boost his ego. How can you explain away the fact one of the journalists pays compliments to her husband for hammering one nail or driving a screw. Those simple activities take sometimes less than a minute and are one of those typical mundane household chores, so where’s the point in praising? Once I’ve read modern young women are angry with their husbands / partners who can mend the leaking tap and have to call a professional – is it an incentive – you’ll change that seal, what requires a lot of knowledge and dexterity and consumes your precious time and I’ll be grateful until the end of my days, I’ll tell all of my friends how wonderful my husband is – he fixed the tap, it doesn’t leak, can your old man do that?

For a past few months I’ve been pondering on the roles of people in the marriage, it finally sank in me that I should look at it not like on the bed of roses, still not like on an obligation (I’m still far away from tying the knot) but like on a situation in which two people have to depend on each other, put up with each other and divide or share some roles. And what comes up? One of my female friends admits she can’t cook at all and has problems even with boiling water in a kettle, another one says she throw dirty clothes on the floor and one day she gets herself together to switch on the washing machine. The third says she doesn’t wash up until the dishes can’t fit into the sink – so the big washing-up comes in regular intervals once in three days. I don’t opt for the obsolete family model where woman has to iron his husband’s shirts, wash his socks and cook and serve the dinner when the tired breadwinner comes home. But here we fall into another extreme – there was said to be a huge generation gap between the generations of my parents and my grandparents – they contested their way of life, defied their hierarchy of values, in many cases, it moved the society forward, but we seem to start paying the price – the new generation brought up already in independent Poland shapes into X-generation, the youngsters who aren’t taught they have any duties, they get everything for free, the get used to it (that’s the most appalling) and have still higher demands, but parents still indulge their whims. Yes, it gets my goat when my peer who stands for much lower personal quality than me drives to Warsaw with a better than my father’s car, when I still commute by bus, cause I was taught at home I shouldn’t use something I cannot afford to – in my view there are lots of errors parents make these days… Who’ll carry the can?

But as I can observe, men as a rule hold out for praising! I try to eschew it, but it’s the order of the day that we ask if the meal we’ve prepared is delicious. “Have I spiced it up correctly?”, “Doesn’t the wall look beautifully after painting?”, “It was my wonderful idea, wasn’t it?”, “Could anyone do it better than me?”.

As a teenager I couldn’t stand being praised, I felt uneasy, blushed, then I learned to cope with it. But maybe everyone needs appreciation, commendation, gratitude? But for what? For doing one’s duty? “So you returned home from hospital and the house was clean, fridge was stocked up and the clothes were washed and ironed?” – such question was asked yesterday by my mother’s friend, claiming her children and husband would neglect the house beyond recognition. Hey, praise not on me, I did my duty, shame on them!

BTW, yesterday I indulged in the national sport of Poles, practised on balconies, działki or in the gardens – making a barbecue. I can’t say I have a heart for cookery but grilling is what I adore. Unfortunately my photo-taking savvy is not already well developed so no one took up operating the camera and capturing me dealing with the sausages and turkey cutlets…

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Poised for rebound?

For too long I haven’t been writing about economy, so it’s time for a comeback and time to ask about the current crisis and forecasts for the future. To be honest – I don’t get it – what’s happening around is beyond my comprehension. In the autumn of 2008 economists, analysts and lots of politicians were giving warnings of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Indeed, the scale of the downturn was sometimes shocking – may the falls of Baltic Republics’ GDPs serve as example. We were being prepared for the years of hardship to come, the worst was still ahead – from the infested financial system the crisis was to spill over the real economy causing plants to be closed down, forcing employers to shed jobs, dissuading consumers from buying and as a result sending prices falling. To counteract the destructive impact on the real economy, governments have decided to pump up billions in the economies, through packages, programmes, scrap(ped) bonuses. The first rescued was the perpetrator – politicians in the States injected taxpayers’ money into the bloodstream of the economy – to the banking system, the next ones who queued up for state aid were carmakers and other big corporations. We could observe the unparalleled bout of state’s generosity, rightfully hailed as socialism for the rich (in the real socialism at least the poorest were beneficiaries).

The upshot? Financial system has been somehow resuscitated, credit markets revived, but what about the real economy? People experience continuous lay-offs, level of optimism among the employers is still unenviable, unemployment isn’t on the rise only by dint of summer period when the demand for temporary workforce is every year higher than in other seasons of the year. It is still harder to get a loan (as a person who’s generally against living in the red I might be a bit delighted), banks’ balance sheets are hit by the poor interest income figures, in some cases they’re even negative. The prices of basic commodities went up, unlike in Euro zone Poland still has relatively high inflation and lower real interest rates. As a country we got away with the worst – our economy didn’t contract in the first quarter, the preliminary figures for the second imply a minimum pace of growth was retained and from the third one our economy should speed up.

Now let’s get straight to the point – so what beats me? I can’t understand how is it possible that the biggest recession since decades has ended after around a year! Indeed, the scale of collapse was overwhelming, but I feel misled. The prophets of doom out of the blue turned into prophets of bright future. It’s clear we can’t just break down and complain about the misery we plunged into (or we were plunged into), but I can’t make out the fundamentals for the cheerfulness.

Stock exchanges are said to be one of the most significant economic indicators, moreover, they anticipate a few months before the upturns and downturns in the real economy, but it still doesn’t mean they’re infallible. Today I browsed the web to look through the opinions of analysts and analysed on my own stock exchange commentaries from the past two years. They’re mostly irrational – the first results from 2007 showed investors were like hypnotised – they all awaited the WIG 20 index to hit four thousand points. Then, throughout 2008 everybody would advise to buy shares as they were undervalued – but the drops went on, then all of the sudden stock exchanges all over the world and our currency hit the trough in the mid-February… After that the investors became insensitive – they came to terms with inexorable fact that economies will be going through fire and water so they couldn’t keep on going short. Soon we witnessed spectacular rallies on stock exchanges – in Warsaw indices rose by seventy per cent within six months (nice return, isn’t it?) and here comes the question – is it just the correction or the beginning of a new bull market? I’d incline towards the former. On the Internet forums opinions are also divided. Some, like me point at lack of fundamentals to back up the surges and since await long a correction, some rather plausible, with WIG 20 sliding down to 1700 – 1800 points, some envisage the lower point of rebound than the February’s lows. The other ones try to stimulate demand and foresee the level of 2500 points to be reached yet in August. The most balanced is probably the outlook of slightly downward consolidation and sticking between 1900 and 200 points towards the end of the month. Opponents sling accusations at one another. The bearish investors claim bullish fellows are over-optimistic and will cover their positions with huge losses. The ones who maybe put their money in shares and aim high at 2500 points say the rest envy them cause they didn’t profit from the surge. I also didn’t do so, perhaps it justifies my point of view. But with some free cash to invest I won’t go into shares right now. One reason is that I don’t believe in fundamentals for the sustainable upward trend, secondly I’m trying to analyse, draw conclusions and keep away from bandwagon. We’re still far from run on funds and stock exchange which took place in 2006 and 2007, ordinary people are still afraid and “lick their wounds”, but let’s find out what underlies the current rises – look at the correlation between exchange rate of zloty and indices of Warsaw stock exchange – those are the foreign big investors who drive our market up. In my view their intention is to persuade Polish investors – mostly from TFI and OFE but also individuals, to join the rally, in a few months, they’ll close their positions and take profits and it’s a possible scenario of how this get-over bull run might end. So I’ll hang on with putting my money there. The securities are too expensive these days. But how about waiting for the peak of zloty’s appreciation and buying currencies then?

A miało być krótko… It didn’t work out, not for the first and not for the last time. It occurred to me there are only two scenarios for the real economy – either a rebound, or a second wave of the crisis, probably not as strong as the first one, but still causing turbulences and making scales fall from eyes of many not down-to-earth optimists…

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The scream of exasperation...

A round anniversary means usually celebrations – almost the whole Poland will come to a halt for a minute at five in the afternoon to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising.

Sadly, the celebrations are laced with politicking, taking away from one another the heritage of Armia Krajowa (EN: Home Army). The more time goes by, the more myths there are about those events, the less veterans celebrate it alive, the first day of August becomes the day for the politicians to demonstrate their attachment (true or feigned?) to the history of contemporary Poland. Today our president once again accentuated he stemmed from the family with patriotic traditions – his father had taken part in the fights of the Uprising, his mother as he declared also had participated in it. As many critics pointed out Kaczyński’s mother spent those days hidden somewhere on the Mazovian countryside, his father indeed fought, but president somehow passes over the rest of his life – mostly membership in PZPR and lucrative contracts in Libya… Kaczyński seems to have a monopoly for all the graceful accomplishments of Poles in their history since the beginning of WW2 – equating his opponents to ZOMO…

My family, to be precise my mother’s aunt (cousin of my grandmother) and my mother’s cousin try to persuade me that my R.I.P. grandmother was one of insurgents in the Uprising – they follow the tendency to proliferate the number of insurgents, coin the next myths, so they do something I disapprove of. In fact my grandmother was just a civilian and did not participate in the fights, many times she carried the messages for the insurgents through the sewers, many times she acted as a nurse and looked after the wounded insurgents, but what is the point in adding her merits she had not deserved? She lost her parents in the uprising, on 5th August 1944 the tenement where she lived was bombarded, so she lost all her belongings, until he end of September she roamed around (meanwhile helping as I mentioned) Warsaw’s basements or rubble, looking out for shelters, then in the last days of September she was captured by the Germans and got away from the transport to temporary German camp in Pruszków and escaped to the countryside where she waited out the last months of the war. WW2, which a heavy toll on her – she lost her dearest ones – parents and first husband (he was a soldier of Home Army, died in the battle of Monte Cassino in May 1944), during the uprising as a result of protracted stress her hair turned grey…

This year the press reports are also abundant in critical articles and commentaries about Warsaw Uprising, with the ones by professor Jan Ciechanowski coming to the fore. Some regard it as a blasphemy, but I, without taking a line on it, think it is necessary to let such people give their voice. Brushing aside the entire mythology I can today pay respects to my peers, young inhabitants of Warsaw in the flower of their youth who paid the ultimate price in the uneven fight against the German occupier. They were fighting the losing battle, as mine and my friends’ grandparents say, the Uprising was doomed to end with a total defeat… That is why I am not sure whether the generals who were in charge of the Uprising deserve my respect. They brought about something what was totally unprepared and consequently turned into mayhem… My friend’s grandfather who came alive from Auschwitz concentration camp and who was in the centre of Warsaw on 1st August sixty fives years ago says “Hour W” is just a myth, someone tossed a grenade and thus gave a cue to the outbreak… Generals undoubtedly badly foresaw the political situation – Stalin’s army stopped on the East bank of Vistula and stayed there until mid-September – according to Stalin’s plans Warsaw was wiped out and the place was ready to build a new capital of dependent country, build after the communist fashion… Should we blame our allies – United States and Great Britain? Together with Stalin they divided the cake in the conference in Teheran a year earlier. Churchill and Roosevelt admitted they had to give in – Soviet contribution in war against Nazi was too big (for Stalin sending the regiments of thousands of soldiers to die in the battle was like snapping his fingers) and they had to accept his conditions concerning the new spheres of influences in Europe – and so Poland, the everlasting enemy of the Russian nation became a satellite country of the communist empire, it could be worse, we weren’t incorporated into the Soviet Union and were not a soviet republic.

What else could be done? Maybe we should not allow for such material losses and death toll – the ones who died were mostly of the intelligentsia. Maybe if they had lived out they would have helped build a better country even under the conditions of subjection to Soviet Union, maybe they would be accused of collaboration with the Nazi and imprisoned, tortured or maybe just sentenced to death…

I do not hold with the proposals of declaring the anniversary of Uprising’s outbreak a national holiday. I do not want to celebrate the calamity…

And last but not least, the radio journalists asked today what was the patriotism of Poles living at the beginning of twenty-first century. In the times of peace when there is no need to lay down the life for the homeland, there are many way in which it can be manifested. Offhand I figured out a weird one – my today’s resolution is that I will not put my money into so-called antybelka (very often offered these days, for instance by Open Finance or Eurobank) – I will not evade taxes within the letter of law in the situation when my state is in need of money. I will not evade taxes, I will not pick up a fight, I will not emanate with hatred, I will not be green with envy, I will not cease to criticise my country when necessary but I will be proud when there are serious reasons to be, I will not spread myths…?