Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
Poland has become significantly wealthier over the last quarter century, but the country's post-communist transformation has created winners and losers, with some of the biggest losers remaining in the countryside while urban areas power ahead.
A new report by the Polish Academy of Sciences finds that the already deep chasm between the wealthy parts of Poland and the poorer parts of the countryside is widening.
One of the biggest problems picked up by the report is the continued wave of emigration from the poorest regions of the country, largely in the east along the borders with Ukraine and Belarus. Many of those regions are noting a fall in population, compounded by very low birth rates. As many as 2m Poles have left the country since it joined the EU in 2004, and many of them have come from poor rural regions, where investors are rare and good jobs even rarer.
Krystyna Iglicka, a demographer, tells the Rzeczpospolita newspaper: “These regions have seen the most Poles leaving to work abroad. And because those leaving are predominantly young, these regions have no one to give birth to children.”
Those left behind tend to be older, less able or less ambitious, which makes the future outlook for Poland's poorest regions even more dire. The report find s that although 60% of people living in the countryside have no link with agriculture, less than 10% of people living there pay standard personal or corporate income taxes. That means they are outside the formal economy and are not starting up businesses of their own.
Even if people are willing to make a go of living in the countryside, conditions there are substantially worse than in larger cities. Only a third of rural localities have access to public transport, and in a quarter of them the drive to the nearest large town takes more than two hours.
Those with children also face difficulties. Some rural communities only have preschool access for 5% of children, while Poland's cities provide such facilities for three-quarters of children.
The government has set up a programme, financed in large part by the EU, to help drive investment towards the poorer east of the country. There is some interest in the south-east of Poland, near the city of Rzeszow, which has a significant aircraft industry and a new highway connection to western Europe. But the rest of eastern Poland has few highways, small cities and not many industries, making it hard to lure investors.
Jan Cienski is a Senior Fellow at DemosEuropa, a Warsaw-based public policy think-tank
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